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Good Samaritans blow in with storm, help three stranded Fort Lewis students get home

Women trapped in Chama, New Mexico, the night before their semester finals
Three Fort Lewis College students were rescued by more than one good Samaritan after being stranded near Chama, N.M., during Monday’s snowstorm. (Courtesy of Hank Blum)

When events began to go sideways on Monday evening for the three Fort Lewis College students trying to get home from Denver, Emily Staley somehow knew she would be OK.

“When I say I’m a lucky person, I genuinely feel like I am,” she said with a laugh.

Staley, along with friends Keyanna and Dakota (last names not provided), both freshmen at FLC, decided to take a swift vacation out of town just before having to take their finals on Tuesday morning. Excited to get away for a brief amount of time, Staley had not given any thought to the forecast cold front heading toward Southwest Colorado and Northern New Mexico on Monday morning, bringing plenty of snow with it.

On their way back to Durango, Staley stopped at a gas station in South Fork and was warned by one of the attendants that her Mini Cooper, which she named Sheldon after the show “The Big Bang Theory,” would not make it up Wolf Creek Pass, especially with the new Passenger Vehicle Traction Law in effect (Colorado vehicles are required to have either snow tires or chains on their tires on mountain passes).

Staley’s friends, (from left) Keyanna and Dakota (last names not provided), exit Marcus (last name not given) the truck driver’s passenger side at the Chama Trails Motel. (Courtesy of Emily Staley)

Staley decided to bypass Wolf Creek Pass altogether and go around, which took her and her friends into northern New Mexico. Unfortunately, along Highway 17 heading south from Antonito, Sheldon got stuck, and the three women found themselves in a predicament. Staley called one of her friends at FLC, Byrne Dobrient, who owned a four-wheel drive and would be able to get the women.

Though he was in the middle of writing a term paper, Dobrient did not hesitate to get in his car and makes his way to his stranded friends.

“She called me at like, nine o’clock and told me she couldn’t get over here,” he said. “I was just hanging out working on a paper, and I was the only one that they knew that had a bigger vehicle. I drive a (Toyota) Tacoma, so I just got up and drove out there.”

While waiting for Dobrient, the three women decided to get out of the car and hitchhike into the nearest town. Though things worked out for them in the end, the National Weather Service warns against leaving an immobile vehicle during a snowstorm because motorists can get lost and freeze to death trying to find help.

While the events of the evening thus far sound like the beginning of any generic horror movie, Staley still believed luck was on her side. As it would turn out, luck came in the form of a semi-truck driver, who picked up the girls and agreed to take them to Chama. His name was Marcus (last name not provided), he was from Houston and he was excited about his plans to take his 5-year-old daughter somewhere special for the holidays.

“He dropped us off and we shook his hand,” Staley said. “He was the sweetest man ever. He’s planning on taking his daughter to Disneyland.”

Chama Trails Motel hospitality for stranded motorists includes hot chocolate and personalized sandwiches. (Courtesy of Emily Staley)

Marcus dropped the women off near the Chama Trails Motel, where they hoped to sit in the lobby, warm up and wait for help to arrive. The managers of the motel, however, did not agree with the college students’ request. Not satisfied with simply letting the women sit in the lobby, Kabrina and Manny McGinnis, who live on the property, invited them into their private quarters, gave them hot chocolate and made them personalized sandwiches while they waited.

“They were the sweetest couple,” Staley said. “They had this little 8-month-old baby, and her name was Josephine. They stayed up with us. They spoke with us. They offered us food and everything.”

The three women were thankful for such hospitality, considering it was taking Dobrient much longer to get to them than anticipated. Staley eventually discovered that she had sent him her location but the GPS had not updated since the three had wound their way through the mountains from Antonito.

“He calls me and he asked, ‘Hey, where are you?’ And I’m like, ‘What do you mean?’ And he said, ‘I’m in the middle of nowhere. I’m literally on the side of the road. Where are you guys?’ I realized my location was showing him that I was still in the mountains,” she said.

Dobrient had accidentally traveled 20 minutes past Chama where Staley’s location was pinging.

Eventually, he made his way back to Chama and picked up the women. By the time they made it back to Durango, it was two in the morning. Though everyone in the group was exhausted, the three women could not help but look back the day’s events fondly.

“The is the epiphany of the college experience right here,” Staley said. “What an experience!”

Trying to find his three stranded friends using Emily Staley’s GPS location, Fort Lewis College student Byrne Dobrient drove 20 miles past Chama, until Staley realized her signal had not updated since driving in the mountains west of Antonito. (Courtesy of Emily Staley)

Even Dobrient views the trip to Chama to rescue his friends in a positive light.

“The excursion got me out of the house,” he said chuckling. “A little break from doing homework anyway. My mind was melting from writing that paper anyway.”

Staley, who still managed to take her final Tuesday morning and received an A+ grade, will never forget the kindness of strangers and her friend with the Tacoma for aiding her and her road trip companions during a cold and snowy night far from home.

“They all rescued us and then Byrne came and picked us up, and we just had a blast talking the whole way back, sharing our whole experience,” she said. “What a really nice end to a girl’s trip!”