By Harley Nefe
Wayne May and Shirleyann May’s first vacation as a married couple did not go as expected when they got stuck on an ice-covered gravel mountain road in their motorhome in the middle of the night during 16-degree weather and 50 mph wind gusts in Todd on Feb. 2. However, they both said their lives were saved by Jason Miller, an employee of Hampton’s Body Shop, Inc. in Boone.
Wayne and Shirleyann are from Middleburg, Florida, which is about 20 miles south of Jacksonville. They have been married for less than a year, as their anniversary falls on May 28. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, they said it’s been rough, and they haven’t been able to travel together like they would like to. All that was to change as they planned their first vacation spending a week together with their dog at the Blue Bear Mountain Camp, which is a campground in Todd. This first vacation became one that the couple said they will always remember.
The couple originally planned to stay at the campground for a week from Feb. 3 through Feb. 10. And they left a day early to make the 520 mile trip in their 32 foot long, 15,000 pound Damon Daybreak RV.
“We wanted to see snow, and God only knows we saw that. We got some beautiful pictures; it’s beautiful over there in the mountains,” Wayne said.
The Mays traveled through Blowing Rock and Boone and saw the snow. From Highway 421 in Boone, the couple took Highway 194 toward Todd.
“We had to turn off onto a road — it was called Longhope Road — I’ll probably never forget it,” Wayne said. “It was a gravel road, and we intended to go up the mountain, as it was about a mile up there to the campground, but as we got to the last quarter of the mile, the roads were icing over.”
Blue Bear Mountain Camp is located at the top of the hill, and as the Mays started to go up the incline there, the RV began to slide back.
“On the left side of the road was a cliff,” Wayne said. “It was not a place you would want to slide off, and on the right was a ravine.”
As Wayne tried to drive the motorhome, it continued sliding backward.
“I had to be on the brave side for my wife, but I can tell you one thing — I was scared to death,” Wayne said.
Due to medical conditions, Shirleyann suffers from seizures and anxiety, and as the motorhome continued to slide backward, her anxiety heightened.
She said that she used to have nightmares about going up on a mountain and sliding off the edge.
“And this was her nightmare coming true,” Wayne said. “It was really pretty terrible for her. She said, ‘Wayne, this is what I dreamt about, and you got to get me off this mountain; you got to get me off this mountain.’ I said, ‘Dear, I can’t get us off the mountain yet. I believe we’re going to be OK. We’re going to be alright. We’re going to get out of here.’”
Eventually, the RV slid into a ditch there, and Wayne tried many times to get it out, but it kept sliding back into a hole.
“We started thinking, and rationally, we called wrecker companies,” Wayne said. “We called at least three or four, and nobody was coming up there. They said they were familiar with the road, and it’s just too dangerous to come up there.”
At this point, the outside temperature was 16 degrees, and the wind was blowing and gusting at about 50 mph.
“It was cold,” Wayne said. “It was really cold up there.”
The last time the RV slid, it slid up against the briars.
“It was really thick. I tried to open the door, and we couldn’t even open the door,” Wayne said. “We were actually trapped in the motorhome.”
Wayne further said, “We couldn’t get out, so my main concern was my wife and getting us down safely. It’s like being in a boat, and you’re calling somebody, and nobody can come. The anxiety in me was going up, but I couldn’t let that out. My wife was scared enough.”
Then it dawned on Wayne that he has AAA, and he’s been with them for 34 years.
So, Wayne called AAA and got in touch with a man named Kelvin who started calling other personnel. Kelvin kept in touch with the Mays throughout the situation.
By this time, it was 12 a.m. and now Feb. 3. The couple had been stuck for about four hours.
“We were warm because I was running the RV, but I didn’t know how long we were going to have to stay out there,” Wayne said. “Then Kelvin got back to me and said, ‘Mr. May, nobody wants to come up on that mountain.’ I said, ‘Oh, great.’ Then Kelvin said, ‘I got one other company I can call.’”
Kelvin later called Wayne back and told him about the company Hampton’s Body Shop. Kelvin further said the company had a young man currently out, and he was pulling a snowplow out about an hour from where the RV was located, but that the man would call them.
The Hampton’s Body Shop employee who ended up calling Wayne was Jason Miller, and he asked the Mays where they were at. He told Wayne that he was 15 minutes away from Hampton’s Body Shop, and he had to drop off a snowplow there first, but that he would come their way as soon as he could.
“When Jason called, I swear to God, it was like an angel calling me,” Wayne said. “This young man was going to come out and attempt. At least he was going to attempt, and he not only attempted, he got us off the mountain.”
At about 1:30 a.m. in the 16-degree weather and blowing snow, Jason pulled up to the RV in a small wrecker.
“He came up, and I opened up the window,” Wayne said. “He said, ‘Mr. May, I’m Jason, and I’m here to try to get you out,’ and I said, ‘OK,’ and he said, ‘I’m going to winch you out of the ditch that you’re in, and you’re going to have to back down almost a mile. I’ll stay behind you with my lights on.’”
So, after getting the RV out of the ditch, Jason was driving down the hill with his floodlights on behind the RV and guiding it down.
“As we were going down, we were slipping and sliding. It was kind of scary, but he stayed with us,” Wayne said. “One side if we went off, we would be history, and the other side, he told me to try to stay as close to it as I could.”
Jason and the Mays finally got back down the mountain to about where Highway 194 is, and Wayne was then able to turn the motorhome around.
“He came up to me and said, ‘Mr. May, I hope you and your wife drive safe,’ and I said, ‘Jason, how safe are the roads right now for us to head back home?’ and he told me while in Todd, Boone and Blowing Rock to drive really careful through there. He also said to watch the blowing snow, too, because it’s slick. He said after Blowing Rock, we should be OK, and he nailed it,” Wayne said. “We got past Blowing Rock, and the roads cleared up pretty good and we were on our way.”
At this point, the Mays had been in their motorhome for a total of 14 hours, being stuck for five of those hours.
Wayne then drove another 100 miles, making it 17 hours total, and then he found a rest area still in North Carolina to pull off at.
“We just climbed into the back of our motorhome, my wife, myself and our dog, and we just camped out for about five hours, and then finally we drove back home,” Wayne said.
However, before the couple left Jason, they said they told him they were going to give him a generous tip even though Jason said that AAA took care of him. Wayne then told him, “You saved our lives. Nobody else — we even called the authorities; we called 911, and they couldn’t help us. The police couldn’t help us; they said it was just that dangerous.”
Wayne added, “We’re both Christians, and we both believe Jesus Christ is our savior and he did, he saved us that night sending Jason out. He was a young man who did a great thing, and he risked his life and his company’s equipment and got us off the mountain.”
On Feb. 4, Wayne called Hampton’s Body Shop and talked to one of the owners, Toby Hampton.
“I said, ‘This is not a negative call. This is one where your young driver there, Jason, is a hero to me and my wife.’ He said, ‘He’s a great driver,’ and I said, ‘Yes, he is. I wanted to call you, and my wife and I would say he’s the employee of the year. He got us off the mountain when nobody else, not even 911 could help us. No other towing companies would come and attempt it, and he came out there and got us out and got us down safely. We just want him to be recognized. He did a great thing for us,’” Wayne said.
Wayne further said, “We wanted Jason to really get recognition for what he did because I don’t even think he even realizes to the fullest extent what he did for us and that nobody else would help us.”
Hampton said Jason is an outstanding employee.
“I feel like he and our crew go above and beyond to take care of people and to do the best that they can do to help remedy a bad situation,” Hampton said. “Every time we go out, nobody is happy to see us, but we try to make the situation better. Nobody is excited to be stuck, wrecked, or broke down, but we try to do the best we can to ease and calm the people and try to make the situation not so bad.”
Hampton said Jason’s work on Feb. 3 is a testament to his character
“He’s always willing to go out in the worst of conditions and do whatever he can do to help people out,” Hampton said. “Sometimes it’s not about the money, but it’s about getting people to safety, and in the couple’s case, getting them back on the road. We’re very thankful to have him, and we have a very good crew in general. I feel very good about everybody.”
The Mays later found out that Blue Bear Mountain Camp was calling people and canceling reservations because of the inclement weather conditions.
“I wish they would have called me because I wouldn’t have come up,” Wayne said. “But, we learned something. I know we’re not going to drive in snow and ice with a motorhome anymore.”
When asked if they have plans on coming back to the High Country, Wayne said his wife is petrified.
“She was petrified of mountains before, and we’ll probably steer around them now,” Wayne said. “North Carolina is a beautiful state, so we’ll definitely come back to North Carolina to camp, but she’ll look at the mountains from a distance.”
Shirleyann said when they made it back to Florida, she had never been so happy in her life to see green grass.
Speaking about the experience, she said she was truly petrified.
“I honestly thought we were going to be found in the motorhome,” Shirleyann said. “I thought we were going to run out of gas from sitting there waiting during those five hours and actually be found there. Just by the grace of God, this wonderful man was willing when 911 couldn’t even show up because it was so dangerous. This gentleman, he’s a young man, and he has a life of his own, too, and a family, but bless us, he was willing to risk his life, and I know this is his job, but he was willing to risk his life to come up and help us — people he doesn’t even know — in a very dangerous situation.”
Shirleyann added, “And my husband, he’s such a champ. He never drove on icy, snowy roads, much less a 32-foot long machine going backward down a mountain. We’re very thankful. We’re thankful to be home and very thankful for this young man helping us, and if only I could reach out and give him the employee of the year award for going above and beyond what so many people would do. There are some good people in this world.”
High Country Press requested to speak with Jason Miller; however, he was out on dispatch calls. Hampton said they’ve been very busy lately because of the recent weather.