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Reliable rides: E.T. Jeep Outlaws transports hospital staff to work on snowy, icy roads

Marcus Forson woke up extra early Thursday, got in his Jeep with 42-inch wheels and took to East Texas roads to help nurses, doctors and hospital staff members get to work at Christus Good Shepherd Medical Center in Longview.

“It makes me feel good just to see their smiles,” Forson said. “Everyone is just so grateful. I picked up a lady who works as an operator here, and she was super grateful. She was taking pictures with my Jeep. Just to see their smiles and to see they’re happy that we’re doing this. It makes me feel good. We enjoy what we do. We’re one big Jeep family.”

Forson, of Longview, is among dozens of Jeep owners who have participated in a large-scale effort coordinated by the nonprofit organization E.T. Jeep Outlaws to transport hospital staff members to and from work each day so they can continue providing medical care to the community.

“Every single one of the individuals here, I can’t put a value on what they mean to us,” said Christus Good Shepherd Vice President of Operations Jim Gaton as he looked out upon a sea of Jeep owners lined up at the hospital’s south entrance. “At the end of the day, because of them, we’re able to care for our patients and the community.”

The partnership between Christus Good Shepherd and E.T. Jeep Outlaws started about three years ago during a previous storm during which Jeep owners helped staff get to work. That storm paled in comparison to this week’s winter weather, but Justen Hollis, president and founder of E.T. Jeep Outlaws, said Jeep owners mobilized once again.

Each day this week, Christus Good Shepherd has sent Hollis a list of employees who need a ride to and from work. Hollis then coordinates those rides with Jeep owners across East Texas. Jeep owners have come from Longview and the surrounding area to participate, and they’ve transported hospital staff members and even patients as far as Marshall, Tyler, Gilmer and Henderson to help them get safely to and from their homes.

“This has by far been the biggest experience of something like this that we’ve done, just because we’ve never seen this much ice and snow in East Texas,” Hollis said. “If it wasn’t for all of my Jeep members and all of these people here, we wouldn’t have been able to do this at all.”

In between taking Christus staff and patients to and from home or work, Jeep owners have driven Longview’s roads providing help to those in need.

On Thursday, Forson helped cars, trucks and even tractor-trailers that had become stuck in particularly slick portions of the roads get back on their routes.

The driver of a tractor-trailer that became stuck on George Richey Road said he was grateful for the assistance from Forson and two other truck owners who had stopped to help him on the ice. The two trucks and the Jeep tied themselves to each other and with their combined strength managed to help the tractor-trailer.

Fellow Jeep owners Skipper and KT Wright of Liberty City also have performed other errands in between helping Christus employees get to and from work.

KT Wright said Wednesday that the couple went to a store to buy batteries that they delivered to a family in Diana that was in need to keep an insulin pump running. They’ve also delivered pizzas to staff at the Truman W. Smith Children’s Care Center in Gladewater.

At Christus, Wright estimated they have helped about 10 to 15 employees on each run they have been on. Skipper Wright said he’s put about 900 miles on his Jeep since Monday morning as he’s helped people get to and from work.

“It’s been a pleasure helping. They do so much for us,” he said. “And this is personal to me.”

Wright has Stage 4 cancer. He’s been receiving treatment at Texas Oncology in Longview, but he said all medical personnel matter to him, regardless of where they work.

“They do so much me, so if I can help them in any way, that’s what I’m here to do,” he said. “They take care of us way more than we do them. If all I’ve got to do is pick them up and take them home, that’s a small thing to do for them.”

Wright and Forson each said the most difficult challenge late this week has been availability of fuel. Fuel supply is running low, not just in Longview but across East Texas. Gas station supply has been nearly depleted, and it’s been impossible to get more because of the hazardous road conditions.

Jeep club members text each other when they find stations that have fuel so they can continue serving the community.

Hollis said Thursday was one of the worst days on the road as soft snow had been replaced with thick ice following heavy sleet Wednesday. Meanwhile, the list on Thursday morning of staff members needing rides also was one of the longest he had seen.

On top of that, nearby hospitals, including Longview Regional Medical Center, have heard about the Jeep club’s efforts and have reached out for assistance for their staff members, as well.

Hollis also is trying to prioritize other calls he receives. For example, on Thursday the manager of Kroger in Longview requested assistance. Delivery trucks had arrived at Kroger with fresh grocery supplies for the store, where shelves have been nearly depleted. However, the manager didn’t have a way to get from a home in Diana to the store, so Hollis sent a Jeep.

Hollis attributes the support from the East Texas Jeep community to a larger mentality that spreads across many owners of the vehicle.

“Once you own a Jeep, you become part of a society that is one big family,” Hollis said. “Ever since we started this Jeep club and ever since these people have bought a Jeep, they have become family to every other person.”

Gaton said all of Christus’ associates to whom he has spoken have praised the Jeep club for its efforts.

“Everyone has talked about the drivers, the professionalism, how they drive and they think that it’s one of the greatest services that they have the experience of participating in,” Gaton said.

The week has seen long hours for Hollis and Jeep owners who have gotten up at 4 a.m. to begin rides and have ended some nights at 10:30 or 11:30 p.m., but Gaton expressed the gratitude that Christus has for the club which has enabled the hospital to serve the community this week.

“It’s been an awesome week,” Hollis added. “This is an experience I will never forget.”


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Kilgore trucker gets back to driving as way to help community during winter storm

KILGORE — When he was younger, Pete Luman moved to Nashville twice to pursue his music career but says he got homesick almost as soon as he left.

He soon returned home to East Texas and, following in his father’s footsteps, began driving trucks — eventually owning his own hot shot company for about 10 years.

When the bottom fell out of the oilfield industry more than a decade ago, Luman says he pretty much lost everything. Forced to close the doors to his business, the 62-year-old now drives for Orgill in Kilgore.

Luman was supposed to go to work Monday, but after his route to Mississippi was canceled because of the weather and poor road conditions, the truck driver says he was looking for something to do.

“I was just sitting there and drank about three cups of coffee, and I was bouncing off the walls, so I said, ‘I gotta get out and do something,’ ” he said.

Luman turned back to the road.

Known to his friends as Cool Cat Daddy, Luman says he likes to help people and has a large following on social media as the bass player for the Reo Ramblers, the house band at the REO Bar and Grill at the REO Starplex where he plays on weekends.

So, when he made a post on several Facebook pages offering rides in his four-wheel drive SUV to people needing to get supplies from the store or needing a way to get to their jobs, he instantly got replies.

Pete Luman has offered his driving service through social media.

“Most of the responses were, ‘You’re so sweet,’ or ‘Thank you, Pete for doing this for people,’ ” Luman said about the initial response. “But I finally got a few folks that were needing help.”

Mike Boyle, who lives in the Liberty City area, requested Luman’s services on Wednesday. Luman picked up Boyle and his son, Lucas, and drove them to a store so they could purchase water, tea and a few other necessities.

“We were without power for about eight hours and we’re still without water,” said Boyle as they drove from his home four miles to the nearest store.

Luman said he’s helped nurses and other employees get to and from their jobs at the Truman W. Smith Children’s Care Center in Gladewater.

He stops to offer assistance if he sees someone walking or a if car has run off the road.

“Sometimes, I might circle around to give them a little while to ponder the decision that led them to being in that situation,” he said with a laugh, “but I’ve always liked to help people.”

Luman said one man told him he had $10.61 and just wanted him to deliver a box of rice for supper.

“When they break it down to the 61 cents, you know that’s all they have,” he said. “I went on his Facebook page and saw he had three kids, so when I brought the box to his door, I just handed it to his wife and left — he messaged me back telling that I forgot to get the money, I told him, ‘Man, I don’t want your money. Merry Christmas!’”

Another woman said she just needed small packages of diapers and wet wipes for her baby. Luman brought large packages of each and didn’t ask for payment.

“I don’t tell them up front,” he said, “but if I see they’re in need, I won’t ask them to pay for it.”


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Big melt for Longview area likely Saturday as freezing temps linger

Hazardous road conditions caused by snow and ice from the week’s two major winter storms are expected to linger through Saturday morning across the Longview area, according to the National Weather Service.

NWS Shreveport Meteorologist Matt Hemingway said in a Thursday morning briefing that overnight temperatures will be in the teens early Friday morning and Friday into Saturday morning, causing any snow melt to refreeze.

“We’re almost through it,” he said.

Sunny skies and a high near 41 degrees Saturday should help clear out the snow and ice, Hemingway said.

“We will see a warning trend begin to gain steam,” he said. Daytime temperatures are expected to steadily climb to reach a more seasonal 61 degrees while overnight temperatures will remain above freezing after Saturday night.

Ice totals were not available Thursday afternoon. Meteorologist Gary Chatelain said weather service staff members are working to get more statistics for the week, but that task has been cumbersome.

The record for the longest run of sub-freezing temperatures in Longview is seven days set in late January 1940.

This past week totaled about five days of sub-freezing temperatures, Chatelain said. The five day run would tie with three other events: December 1983, late January/early February 1951 and February 1933.

“It’s still super rare,” Chatelain said. “It’s an every 20/30/40 years event.”

Low temperatures were expected to reach 12 degrees early Friday, matching the record for the date set in 1910.

“Yet another all-time cold night,” Chatelain said. “This is a not very common arctic air invasion.”

Several meteorologists at the Shreveport office noted that this has been the most challenging event in several years.

“It seems like the longest week ever,” Hemingway said. “If we can get this melted away, we can resume normal activities.”


Coronavirus
Christus postpones weekend COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Longview

Christus Good Shepherd Medical Center is postponing its planned vaccine hub clinic in Longview, scheduled for Saturday and Sunday, because of the winter storm.

According to a statement from Christus, those with Saturday appointments to receive their second dose of the vaccine will be rescheduled to the same time slot March 5. Those with appointments Sunday to receive their first dose of the vaccine will be rescheduled to the same time slot March 7. Community members do not need to take any action at this time.

“We want to reassure those affected that rescheduling the Feb. 20, second dose appointments for March 5, is still in keeping with current CDC guidelines for administering the Pfizer vaccine,” Christus said in a statement. “If it is not feasible to adhere to the recommended 21-day interval, the second dose of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines may be administered up to six weeks (42 days) after the first dose and still be effective.”

Those who had signed up for a time will receive a text or phone call informing them of their new time, Christus said. Anyone unable to attend at the rescheduled time or those who want to cancel an appointment should call (877) 335-5746.

Community members also will receive a text, phone call or email confirmation of their new appointment 72 hours prior to the appointment.

Christus announced Jan. 25 that the state named it a vaccine hub. The vaccine hub designation was brought about as a partnership between the hospital, Gregg County and City of Longview. While Christus is administering and overseeing the clinic, the county is providing financial support for the program and the City of Longview is providing use of its facilities, namely the Longview Exhibit Center.

Since being designated a hub, Christus has administered Pfizer doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to qualifying individuals in the community each weekend, and has administered thousands of doses thus far.

This weekend would have marked the first time that second doses of the vaccine were to be administered at the vaccine clinic. The COVID-19 vaccine is administered in two doses: an initial injection and then a second shot that follows typically about 21 days later. However, as Christus officials noted, the vaccine is still effective when administered up to 42 days after the initial injection.

“Christus Good Shepherd, alongside our partners Gregg County, City of Longview and the State of Texas, appreciate everyone’s patience and flexibility as our teams work diligently and as swiftly as possible to modify hub clinic operations in response to the winter storm,” the health care system said in a statement.


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