Teen’s harrowing encounter with downed power lines
Most teenagers are quick on their feet, and Mary Gehrig is no exception.
Mary was having a good time hanging out with a friend. Realizing that a storm was brewing, she pulled the weather card and used it as an excuse not to leave. As teens often do, Mary led with her most compelling reason. “Oh no, I can’t come home right now. It’s dangerous,” referring to the half-hour drive.
Her mom, however, was not buying what Mary was selling. Karen Gehrig’s maternal instinct kicked in, and like moms everywhere, she wanted her daughter home before the skies opened. Mary reluctantly headed home around 9 p.m.
Her ride home started fine. It was raining, but nothing Mary couldn’t handle. “I’ve never really been afraid to drive in storms; I’m pretty good with them,” she explained.
But as she got closer to home, things took a turn for the worse. Mary recalls that many cars had pulled off to the side of the road due to low visibility caused by torrential rains, but since she was almost home, she thought she would keep going.
After she made one of her last turns onto a county road, she said that flashes of lightning illuminated glimpses of white lines in the distance, but she could not tell what they were. As she got closer, she realized that there was nothing small about the linear obstructions strewn across the roadway.
“By the time I realized it’s on the road, it’s big and I was not going to (be able to) drive over it. I was like, I am going to hit this,” Mary recalls. She slammed on the brakes and her car struck whatever was in the road. She said her next thought was, “Oh my gosh, what did I do.”
What she hit was a massive, high-voltage transmission power line that was no longer hung from tower to tower in its proper place. After Mary’s car came to a stop, she says it began malfunctioning and was rendered undrivable. It was a life-changing moment that could have gone either way, depending on what she did next.
Fortunately, Mary’s next thought was to call her parents.
“When we learned that she had hit a power line,” her dad Chris recalls, he told Mary in no uncertain terms to, “Stay put. Don’t move. Don’t do anything. Call 9-1-1.” Luckily, her phone’s charge lasted an hour or so after she hit the power line.
Although Mary experienced a full range of emotions while waiting in her car, she could not get out and first responders could not approach it until it was confirmed that the power lines were deenergized. This process took some time since the transmission lines were not local and spanned several states. Her local electric cooperative worked closely with the company that owned the transmission lines to ensure that no one would get hurt.
“I think Mary did everything right,” Fire chief Rich Schock said, since Mary stayed inside the vehicle until it was safe to get out.
After returning home in the early morning hours, “She was very happy, probably happier than I’ve ever seen her, to be home and see us,” her mom Karen said.
“Now, I drive slower. I’m more cautious, especially in the dark. I appreciate my friends and parents more. Having that kind of death-defying moment, it gets to the core of you; it gets to your heart real quick.”
To watch Mary’s story and to learn more, visit SafeElectricity.org.