Trapped by trees and live wires
BEAVERBROOK, NY — Long-time Tusten resident Chuck Hoffman has made a name for himself as a photographer in recent years, but last week he turned up on WCBS-TV as a victim of the fierce storms that blew through the region on May 16.
Hoffman said, “I was traveling down County Route 23 by the Boy Scout property, and I broke over top of the mountain, and I could see off in the distance this really low cloud moving in a very peculiar way. I started to slow down, and I saw pine cones and then tree tops flying through the air. It was a funnel cloud. I came to a stop and was going to turn around and go back the other way, but by the time I came to a stop, it was too late. A tree had fallen on top of the hood, and then immediately two more fell on the roof along with the electric lines.”
The lines were sparking and Hoffman was in the car, fearing that the sparks from the lines might start a fire. He said, “So I couldn’t get out, and the safest place to be was inside the vehicle.” Getting out of a vehicle touching live wires can be tricky, because if a person touches the car and the ground at the same time, that person could be electrocuted.
Hoffman said that as he was assessing the situation, he saw a big Sullivan County snow plow truck approaching. Hoffman was blowing his horn and flashing his lights, but the truck stopped about 100 yards away, and turned around without acknowledging Hoffman.
He said he called 911 a couple of times, and “They told me they couldn’t get to me.” The road they were using to try to reach him was blocked, but Hoffman said he believes another they could have used was clear. On the afternoon of the storm, numerous roads in Tusten and elsewhere were blocked by downed trees and wires.
Hoffman sat in his Jeep Grand Cherokee for three hours. He said, “At one point the wires started really scaring me, because they were still hot and sparking, and I started laying on the horn as loud as I could.”
Finally Bruce Gettel from the Lava Fire Department came close enough to talk to Hoffman. Hoffman said, “He said ‘I can’t get to you. You’re going to have to try to drive your truck out of it. There are some medium-sized branches behind your truck… you have a Jeep Grand Cherokee, you should be able to drive over them.’ I asked what about the stuff on the top of my car and my hood. He said, ‘We can’t get to you, we can’t get you out from underneath there, the wires are still live. You’re going to have to try to drive out.’
“So I put the car into reverse, and it took a couple of times, backing up, going forward, and I got the truck out,” although it seems that his vehicle is totaled.
Hoffman said that after his ordeal he was disappointed that more help from police or other officials was not more forthcoming. He said, “This is a very good reason why maybe we do need a constable in our town… Maybe we need a full-time fire department.”