Chris Cowart's day started going downhill at 2 p.m. Tuesday. Literally. He parked on a hill at Kennesaw University just north of Atlanta, put his emergency brake on -- and promptly slid backward down the slope into a brick wall.
"But it didn't mess anything up," he said. "Got lucky there."
So Cowart, who works for Campus Bellhops in Chattanooga, hopped on Interstate 75 and headed south to meet his co-worker in Atlanta. The snow was coming down hard, and traffic moved slowly -- at about 35 miles per hour. Around 2:30 p.m., a car swerved in front of him. Cowart swerved but clipped the car, which threw him into a spiral.
He slammed into the guardrail twice. But again, somehow, the car was OK. Just a few dings. So he got back on the interstate.
"At this point it was snowing and I was like, 'I've got to get where I'm staying tonight,'" he said.
But 9.5 hours later, he was still stuck on the interstate, going nowhere. So at midnight he pulled off and stopped at the first hotel. It was full. He tried another; it was full, too. He pulled into a third hotel. Full.
"I was just looking for anywhere," he said.
He walked into a fourth hotel and the clerk at the front desk told him they had one room left -- and it was his. But just as he checked in, a couple with three little kids trooped into the lobby.
Did they have any rooms, the dad asked.
No, we just gave it up, the clerk told him.
Cowart didn't hesitate.
"I gave them my room," he said. "I was like, 'I can go down the street and find something else. It's easier for me than a family of five.'"
"What a great guy," said his co-worker, Matt Patterson.
But Cowart, who eventually did find a hotel room, is just one of hundreds of people who helped ease the problems created by Tuesday's surprise snowfall. Across the Chattanooga region, volunteers towed cars out of ditches, shoveled driveways, purchased supplies for snowed-in neighbors, sheltered stranded families and even ferried stuck motorists through snowy roads on four-wheelers.
Here's a selection of bright moments from under Tuesday's snow clouds, as told by the people who experienced them.
• Ringgold resident George Winter, who's fighting lung cancer, took his Jeep out Tuesday and spent a few hours helping people in his neighborhood get home when their cars couldn't make it up the hills. "He's one of the good guys," said submitter Sara Stobbe.
• Fourteen-year-olds Jalyn Shelton and Dylan Jack Keown gave four-wheeler rides to stuck drivers and pulled people out of ditches. "Thank God for good kids," said submitter Bridget Bandy.
• Anni Wilson and her 2-year-old daughter spent a few hours with the Daniels family in Hixson after getting caught in a 14-car pileup on Boy Scout Road. "They gave her snacks, a place to nap and kept us both from freezing while waiting for someone to rescue us," Wilson said. "I can't thank them enough."
• Off-duty EMT Shane Holtz pulled at least 15 vehicles out of ditches and gave countless rides, said submitter Coby Rader.
• Shallowford Road had a full team of a half-dozen people who pushed every single car up the hill and directed traffic. "I was also pushed up a hill on East Brainerd Road," said submitter Amy Huckaby Howell.
• Jeff Hullender ran errands and purchased supplies for people who were stuck, said submitter Julie White Wolff.
• Gary Camp drove his neighbor, submitter Michele Stone Roberts, to pick up supplies and check on her 92-year-old grandmother.
• Alan Miller helped everyone in his neighborhood get up the hill, said submitter Claude Jacobs.
Still other helpers went unidentified, but not unappreciated.
• Three men with four wheelers rescued Debra Marsee and her husband near Mission Ridge Road in Rossville after they slid backward down a steep hill. "We were blessed with guardian angels, because we would not have been able to push the car off the side of the road by ourselves," she said.
• A few guys on four wheelers at Hamilton on Hunter North, off Hunter Road, ferried people home for eight hours Tuesday night and picked people up Wednesday morning. "I bet they transported 200 people," submitter Brian Smith said.
• A man pushed submitter Chris Brooks through an East Brainerd intersection Tuesday. "And disappeared just as fast before I could properly thank him," Brooks said.
• A man at North Market and Mississippi directed drivers on the safest routes, said submitter Mary Helen Robert. "His beard was covered in ice," she said. "I don't know his name, but he directed me home safely -- and I'm assuming many more before and after."
• Six men in the Windstone neighborhood pulled submitter Melissa Waters McDougal off a hill when she lost traction about 20 yards from the top. "Thanks boys," she said.
Contact staff writer Shelly Bradbury at 423-757-6525 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Shelly Bradbury covers police and crime in Chattanooga and Hamilton County for the Times Free Press. She's been with the paper since 2012, working first as an intern and then as a business reporter. She is from Houghton, New York, and graduated from Huntington University in Huntington, Indiana, with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and minor in management. Before moving to Tennessee, Shelly previously interned with The Goshen News, The Sandusky Register and The Mint ...