Vehicle barrels into building

A Claremont man was injured Wednesday after his SUV slid on ice and crashed into a building.

Joshua Gage Byrd, 19, was driving west on West B Street in Newton when he turned into a shopping center to purchase cigarettes, said Newton Police Sgt. D.T. Harris.

Byrd was traveling about 20 mph when he pressed on the brakes of his Ford Explorer and drove down a hill into the shopping center.

Harris said the hill was covered in ice, and Byrd's vehicle crashed into the shopping center.

Three people were inside the business, which Harris said is an Internet cafe, at the time of the crash. No one inside the building was injured.

Emergency responders arrived on the scene to find Byrd out of the vehicle and unconscious. He later regained consciousness and communicated with law enforcement.

Byrd was wearing his seat belt at the time of the crash, and Harris doesn't suspect alcohol or drugs were a factor in the crash.

Byrd was transported by ambulance to Catawba Valley Medical Center. Harris didn't know Byrd's condition, but his injuries were non life-threatening.

Police cited Byrd for driving without a license and a moving violation. No one else was in the vehicle at the time of the crash.

Harris said the Ford Explorer sustained about $2,500 in damage from the crash. Although Harris didn't know the dollar amount of damage to the building, he said the damage was extensive.

A crew from Claremont arrived in Newton to inspect the building and ensure there was no possibility of collapse.

Emergency responders on the scene battled a sheet of ice covering a hill in the building's parking lot. Several responders struggled to maintain their balance as they worked at the scene. Since the crash, workers spread salt on the icy area, which improved the road's condition, Harris said.

Catawba County motorists are urged to use caution when traveling during the next few days. For emergency responders, however, it's all in a day's work.

Emergency service workers who drive heavy vehicles, such as ambulances, go through a 24-hour course to learn handling and operation of the large equipment.

Catawba County Emergency Management coordinator Karyn Yaussy said the most experienced person among personnel usually drives the vehicle in an emergency situation. This practice ensures the safety of emergency workers, as well as other motorists on the road.

Safety adjustments can also be made to vehicles to prepare for winter weather. Yaussy said ambulances and law enforcement vehicles can add studded tires for traction. These tires, however, aren't legal for private citizens.

New rescue-vehicle models have chains that automatically deploy. Emergency personnel flip a switch to activate the chains, making driving in snow conditions easier and safer.

Catawba County Sheriff Coy Reid said the sheriff's office has vehicles with four-wheel drive for deputies to use during winter weather.

Reid said deputies have mostly on-the-job training when it comes to navigating roads in icy conditions.

"Just because they're wearing a badge doesn't give them any extra help," Reid said. "They're just as vulnerable."

And that's where common sense comes into play.

"There are times when it's just common sense," Yaussy said. "If the vehicle is sliding at 40 mph, you slow down to 30. If it's still sliding at 30, you slow down to 20."

There are times when emergency workers and law enforcement officers can't access roads, residences or other locations.

In those cases, Yaussy said, emergency responders sometimes leave their vehicles and walk the remainder of the way to help those in need.

"Obviously, it makes work really hard, and those men and women work hard to do their jobs," Yaussy said.

To make those jobs easier, Yaussy said it's important for residents to heed warnings about staying off roadways during bad weather.

"It's one of the reasons why we're so appreciative when the public slows down and stays at home," she said. "It allows everyone to be safe and do their job."