JACKSON COUNTY, OR (KPTV) - As a storm slammed southern Oregon with blizzard conditions, many drivers used their GPS devices to try and get around stopped traffic on Interstate 5.
As a result, according to Jackson County officials, drivers found themselves stuck on high mountain county roads in need of assistance.
"The Jackson County Roads and Sheriff’s Departments are urging travelers to not follow their GPS devices to navigate around road closures in a winter storm," according to a statement from the agencies.
The Oregon Department of Transportation advised people not to travel in southwest Oregon on Tuesday night due to the storm and “treacherous” driving conditions. Southbound I-5 was closed near the California border late Tuesday.
Deputies said many drivers diverted onto Dead Indian Memorial Road, which is a steep, narrow and remote road that is 1000 feet higher in elevation than the Siskiyou Pass.
Most of the drivers were unprepared and many did not use chains, according to Jackson County officials. Several drivers crashed or slid off the road.
Deputies said truck drivers also diverted onto that roadway, which is prohibited for semis under winter conditions.
“Diverting from major highways to rural, remote county roads during a winter storm in hopes that you can make it is not a wise decision,” said John Vial, Jackson County Roads and Parks director.
The most challenging overnight issue, according to deputies, involved 13 drivers who diverted from I-5 onto Colestin Road and spent most of the night waiting for Jackson County Search and Rescue and Road Department employees to rescue them.
Colestin Road is a narrow, very steep, gravel road that is unmaintained during evening hours, that leads from the summit of the Siskiyou Pass into northern California. The route is signed as not being maintained after dark in the winter.
The stranded vehicles were removed at around 3 a.m. Wednesday.
“We are seeing an increasing trend of drivers choosing to blindly follow a GPS into areas they are not familiar with and as we have seen in other areas, this could have turned out tragic, I’m grateful this time it didn’t,” according to Sgt. Shawn Richards, who responded to the scene.
Southbound I-5 reopened near the Oregon-California border at around 8 a.m. Wednesday.
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