“It was so scary,” said Ventimiglia, 47. “People were out of their cars screaming and panicking.”
After 15 minutes of frantic calls for help, a stranger shouted at him, “The guy is coming for you next!”
It was Ryan Sivley in his van, which he lovingly calls “The Beast”.
Sivley rescued 98 pilots on Monday and about 400 more in the brutal explosion that hit Texas, he said. Frigid temperatures and relentless snowstorms have resulted in water and food shortages, widespread power outages and dangerous roads covered with ice.
“I’ll have you, don’t worry,” Sivley reassured Ventimiglia, in his imposing white 2010 Chevrolet Silverado – a four-wheel drive vehicle well equipped to tackle dangerous terrain.
Sivley, 40, tied her car to her truck using a sturdy strap, then towed Ventimiglia – who remained in her vehicle with her dog, Stella, about three miles from her parents’ house.
Sivley carried out his first rescue on February 14 as the storm brewed. He went to a convenience store to stock up on essential supplies and on his way saw a bunch of vehicles stuck on the side of the road.
“It was like a sea of cars,” he says. “Some people were stuck in snow banks and ditches.
Sivley, who enjoys off-roading in The Beast and his other truck, a black Toyota FJ Cruiser, had some sturdy gear with him – hooks, chains, and recovery tow straps, which can pull over 40,000 pounds. . .
“I had all of my gear, so I was like, ‘just let me help,’” he said, adding that the situation was getting more and more difficult by the minute.
“As fast as I was emptying the cars, people would come in and get stuck,” he continued.
He estimated that there was “about three to six inches of ice on the roads,” which caused the cars to jam.
“I went from helping one person, to three people, to five people,” Sivley said. “At 434 cars, I stopped counting. So many people are still stuck.
Sivley attaches each vehicle to his truck, then pulls it over dangerous terrain, until the driver can safely get behind the wheel. In some cases – including Ventimiglia – Sivley will tow the person to their destination.
Soon, Sivley’s rescue efforts extended beyond towing cars. When he saw how dangerous the roads were, he started driving health workers to and from work and single-handedly moving people who had no electricity or running water.
“She’s my angel,” said Ventimiglia, who gave him food and money when he dropped her off. “He helped my whole family.”
Sivley went to look for Ventimiglia’s sister – who was with her husband, two children and three dogs – after the storm cut power and water to their home.
“They all piled into his car and he drove them to my parents,” Ventimiglia said.
Sivley isn’t asking for any compensation for his towing or pickup services, he said, but some people will give him money or Venmo to help pay for gas.
In one day, “I went through three tanks of diesel,” he said. Most of the time this week, he estimated, he rescued people from 4 a.m. to midnight.
Sivley says he’s helped others because he knows what it’s like to need a helping hand. Last March, he nearly died in a motorcycle accident. He broke his pelvic bone and severely damaged the left side of his body, which required major surgery. He also suffered a traumatic brain injury.
Before the accident, Sivley ran RV fleets and tended to have maintenance issues, but was unable to return to work due to his injuries.
Although it is still difficult and painful for him to move around, “the driving part is easy,” he said. “I’ve been in a place where I asked for help and felt helpless, so being able to do something to help others makes me feel like I’m a part of something again.
Sivley’s rescue missions garnered local media attention, and in an interview with ABC affiliate KVUE, he gave out his cell phone number, offering to help anyone in the Austin area.
Initially, Sivley found people in need while driving in hilly areas and stopping at hospitals, but now Austin residents are reaching out to him directly from across town.
Lately, “I get well over 300 text messages” a day, he said.
John Hamilton and his girlfriend were watching the news and spotted the segment on Sivley. They badly needed a driver.
“I grabbed a pen and wrote down her number because my girlfriend’s 82-year-old mother lives alone in North Austin and has dementia. She didn’t have electricity and we had to get her out of there, ”said Hamilton, 69.
He texted Sivley, and right away he answered.
“In about half an hour of texting him, he was there,” Hamilton said.
Sivley picked up the couple, led them to pick up the 82-year-old woman, then took her meds and eventually dropped her off at her other daughter, who had electricity and water.
“He basically saved the life of Sharon’s mother. There was no other way to get her out of there, ”Hamilton said.
But the rescue mission didn’t end there: Sivley then drove the couple north to feed their cats, who lived on a farm with no electricity. Along the way, Sivley picked up the hospital staff and brought them home, and rescued three other people who were stranded.
“He wasn’t expecting anything from us,” Hamilton said. “We paid him enough to refuel, but what he did was priceless.
Sivley said the torrent of calls has been stressful since going public with his number, but added, “It makes me feel really good.
This is because the calls do not come only from those who need help. A number of people have reached out to ask to volunteer.
“People started to say to me, ‘I have a four-wheel drive truck; How can I help? Sivley said.
So he organized a network of rescuers. If someone calls for help and Sivley is busy helping someone else, he’ll pass the address on to one of the nearly a dozen Rover Volunteers.
Andrew Bost is one of them. When he heard about Sivley’s rescue efforts, he was already looking for volunteer opportunities for people with four-wheel drive.
Bost – who lost electricity and stayed with a friend – had cut trees on the roads, took walks and delivered food. Yet he wanted to do more.
Much like Sivley, Bost, 43, is an avid off-roader, and given his heavy weight and equipment, “I’m uniquely qualified for this situation,” he said. “Ryan sent me on a few missions today.”
The group of volunteers, led by Sivley, plan to continue rescuing people for as long as needed.
“I will continue,” Sivley said. “They need help and I won’t say no.”