For freshman Manuel Gonzales, what began as a much-anticipated journey home for Christmas break ended in a disastrous predicament.
On Dec. 14, 2007, Gonzales left Topeka in the early evening, prepared to make the six-hour drive to Hugoton, Kan. While the weather was headed toward nasty, Gonzales felt that it wasn’t yet absolutely horrible.
“When I got to Dodge City visibility became ridiculously bad, so I was only going 40 miles per hour on the interstate,” said Gonzales. “The roads were really slick, and since I couldn’t see anything I didn’t see the curve coming up ahead.”
Upon noticing the curve Gonzales began to turn his steering wheel, but his ’96 Mustang continued to go straight, colliding head-on with a “no passing zone” sign.
“By then it was like a blizzard outside and visibility was almost zero. I frantically got out of the car and called my mom, and after asking if I was okay, she then went on to ask about the car,” said Gonzales. “The damage was pretty bad. I broke the entire right headlight out and my passenger door wouldn’t open due to the fact that the car’s right quarter panel had been pushed back and into the door during the collision.”
Realizing his lack of options and hoping for the best, Gonzales made the decision to try and make it the rest of the way home. But not even ten minutes after his departure, going only 35 miles per hour, Gonzales began to slide off the road once more.
“My car did about two complete 360’s before sliding off into a ditch,” said Gonzales. “My mom had to leave town and help me get out.”
There’s really no nice way of saying it: this winter season in Kansas has been a harsh one. Early December alone brought a full-force dose of frigid temperatures, coating much of the state in a sheet of ice and knocking out power in more than 115,000 households. Furthermore, the month’s overall snowfall amount of approximately 15 inches qualifies it as one of the top five snowiest Decembers that Topeka has ever seen.
Many students like Gonzales packed their bags and headed home Dec. 14 despite the bad weather, under the assumption that all Residential Living would be closing 6 p.m. that evening as a number of postings had clearly stated so. Mark Stier, director of Residential Living, explained otherwise.
“Due to the inclement weather, all Residential Living remained opened that entire weekend of December 14th through the 16th at no extra charge for any students who requested to stay,” said Stier. “Staff was on call, and we had a small group of students with long distances to drive home that requested to stay for the duration of that time.”
While there was no official posting of any sort notifying students of this safer option, Stier explained that any student who asked was more than welcome to stay and wait out the bad weather.
“This has always been a policy of Residential Living under such circumstances,” said Stier.
However, Gonzales was quite unaware of this policy, and said he would have eagerly stayed for the entire weekend instead of waiting for 45 minutes in the cold that evening for his mom to come and jump his car when it wouldn’t start shortly after sliding into the ditch.
Sophomore Traci Parks was equally as unaware of the weather inclement policy, as she packed up to leave that evening.
“The only signs I saw around the Washburn Village were the ones telling us when we needed to be out of there by,” said Parks. “There was nothing that suggested that we had the choice to stay.”
Junior Lindsey Spencer believes that Residential Living could have done a better job of notifying students of the weather inclement policy.
“I’m from Denver, Colorado, and it’s an eight hour drive home,” said Spencer. “I don’t even feel like Friday evening is a viable option for those of us that have long distances to drive. When it comes to students’ safety, I don’t think that it takes much effort on their part to post some signs notifying us of the better option.”
In the meantime, Gonzales looks forward to getting his car repaired this upcoming weekend as it’s currently sporting a massive dent and a missing headlight.
“It’ll be nice to finally have things back to normal,” said Gonzales.