Linda Stonehocker’s motor blew up, leaving her stranded on Interstate 90 near the Sullivan interchange east of Spokane.
“The motor went bang,” the 47-year-old Spokane woman said last week during Friday’s bitter cold spell.
With her bare hands, she gathered up parts of her motor strewn on the freeway and stashed them in her pickup. Then, Stonehocker trudged up the Sullivan on-ramp to a nearby gas station.
Suddenly, help arrived.
Two Washington State Patrol senior volunteers, John Mittmann and Dick Novotney, drove up and offered her a ride to the gas station to call a relative. The telephone didn’t work, so they did even better. They offered her a ride home.
“This is really nice,” she said. “Thank you fellows a lot.”
In the new program put on by WSP and the state Department of Transportation, senior volunteers drive a van around Spokane County’s state highways and I-90 helping drivers whose cars have broken down.
They’re equipped with tools to help change or inflate tires, or put gas in a car that’s run dry. Soon, they’ll have a cellular telephone to call for a tow or a ride for those stranded on the roads.
In one case, Mittmann arrived at the scene of a van rollover and handed two startled young girls teddy bears.
“That settled them down,” he said.
Then Mittmann took the family to WSP headquarters while the van was righted.
Lt. Bruce Clark said the volunteers ease the workload of troopers who need to be available for higher priority calls.
“It’s extremely important that we serve the people. That’s why they hired us,” Clark said. “We don’t just give tickets all the time.”
The only trouble now is that WSP could use more volunteers. They have only four volunteers to hit the road, so the van will only be out when volunteers have the time and inclination.
In the three hours Mittmann and Novotney spent on the road Friday morning, they stopped to help four drivers, including two men whose truck had a flat tire.
They spotted other cars stopped along I-90 heading west to the county line, such as a GMC truck with California plates and its emergency lights flashing.
Novotney got out of the van, circled the truck and peered inside.
“Somebody must have picked him up because there’s no tracks in the snow,” Novotney told Mittmann.
They spotted a few other abandoned cars and at each one, the same scenario followed.
The volunteers do no police work and leave impounding cars to troopers.
Mittmann, a retired trooper, enjoys getting back on the road, helping people. Novotney is a retired state Department of Transportation maintenance supervisor.
“Some people play golf. John and I drive the roads,” Novotney said. “It gets us out of the house and our wives’ hair.”
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