Clayton County police Deputy Chief Chris Butler, in white shirt, addresses other public safety personnel at Clayton County’s Emergency Operations Center. (Special Photo)
JONESBORO — It was a dramatic start to the first 48 hours of snowfall and subsequent freezing in Clayton County, said police.
Hours into the afternoon snowfall Tuesday, about 10:30 p.m., Clayton County police officers discovered a bus from Tri-Cities High School in Fulton County had slid off the road at Ga. 314 and Flat Shoals Road.
“The driver was discovered down an embankment,” said Clayton County police Capt. Angelo Daniel.
The driver and three students, who were not injured, were taken to the North Precinct, he said.
“All four were fed and were able to rest on cots,” said Daniel.
The father of one of the students picked up his child and one of the other students about 12 hours later. At 1:30 p.m. Wednesday, the third student and bus driver were picked up by an officer of Fulton County Schools Police Department.
Daniel said a homeless man also got a meal when he dropped by the precinct.
Five Clayton County police officers and a supervisor from Clayton County Fire and Emergency Services were involved in vehicle crashes but none reported injuries. Daniel said vehicle damage was minor to moderate.
Clayton County was still frozen under the remains of Leon Thursday but overall, residents responded “very well” to the uncommon icy conditions, said Clayton County Fire and Emergency Services Deputy Chief Jacque Feilke.
Officials said from Tuesday through 7 a.m. Thursday, public safety officers answered 3,555 weather-related calls, worked 243 accidents, 87 accidents with injuries and 13 hit and run crashes.
By comparison, the fire department took six severe weather or natural disaster calls in 2013 and 208 car accident calls during the entire month of December.
As the county thaws and returns to normal, the calls will continue to drop off, Feilke said.
“We have seen substantial improvement in the conditions since (Wednesday) and expect this trend to continue,” she said. “Temperatures (Thursday) are expected to reach the low to mid 40s and with the skies being mostly sunny, we should see substantial melting as the asphalt temps will rise.”
Feilke said one of the biggest obstacles was ensuring rescue vehicles had safe passage for calls.
“Emergency vehicles were running nonstop on all vehicle accidents,” she said. “Some of our units got stuck on the way to calls but we were able to get them moving again without much trouble.”
Personnel battled icy roads but also civilian traffic.
“We just needed to keep roads clear for emergency vehicles,” said Feilke.
Chief Landry Merkison activated the emergency operations center Monday afternoon and began hosting regular planning meetings with personnel from Clayton County Police Department, Clayton County Sheriff’s Office and the county’s Transportation and Development department.
Firefighters expected for the next morning’s shift instead came in Tuesday night to avoid dangerous road conditions. Clayton County police are working mandatory 12-hour shifts to help get through the inclement weather, said Daniel.
As of press time Thursday, officials reported no weather-related fatalities in Clayton.
“Our county and citizens responded very well to the winter storm Leon,” Feilke said.
Because of lingering cold temperatures, snow remained on the ground and ice lingered in shady areas. Feilke said although the bulk of the danger has passed, motorists should still be careful.
“We need the public to understand that it is still dangerous out there,” she said. “We expect more thawing as the sun comes out but there will be freezing temperatures again Thursday night. It should get better for the weekend, though.”
Clayton County Board of Commissioners announced the closure of the courthouse, which halted any criminal proceedings that started Monday. District Attorney Tracy Graham Lawson said the shutdown had only a slight impact on operations, including the weekly grand jury presentments.
“We had to continue 30 to 35 grand jury cases,” said Lawson. “Most cases on the trial calendar were already resolved. The grand jury did their presentments and the officers will come in Friday to complete the process.”
Since she can’t get to her office, Lawson is preparing her PowerPoint presentation at home for a murder trial starting Monday.
In Jonesboro, police Chief Franklin Allen said officers used Hummer vehicles to free more than 60 stranded motorists.
“All was good here,” he said. “Our guys are wonderful.”
Allen said the department activated an emergency operations plan and called in additional personnel to cover the increase in calls.
In Morrow, Chief Chris Leighty said his department formed a plan of action Monday night to ensure dispatchers and officers were able to get into work.
“We let our officers take home their patrol cars Monday night so they’d have a way in Tuesday,” he said. “We had them pick up dispatchers so they could get in to work. We also put up officers and dispatchers at the Drury Inn.”
Leighty said there were a “few” wrecks Tuesday but nothing major.
“We were very fortunate,” he said.
In Forest Park, non-essential personnel stayed home through the worse of the storm. Forest Park police officials reported “very few” accidents, most of which were minor and happened on private property.
Clayton County’s public safety agencies used social media to keep residents informed as conditions evolved through the middle of the week. Residents tuned in to Facebook and Twitter to learn about road closures, areas to avoid because of wrecks and government shutdowns including schools.
Daniel said motorists should continue to exercise caution until everything has melted.
“We are anticipating that temperatures will again drop close to the freezing mark later (Thursday),” he said. “Hazardous black ice conditions are expected. Please remain off the roads unless it is necessary.”