FORT WAYNE —
“This is nothing,” Bollinger said Saturday, standing outside the Masonic Temple in downtown Fort Wayne. “I’m used to it. No big deal. I’m here because my son is being installed as master at the temple. I’ll drive over to Anderson to be with family and leave Monday.”
Bollinger is right. This weekend’s snowfall that began late Friday certainly set no records, but it was our first big snow of the year, bringing as much as 8 inches and dozens of vehicles sliding off northeast Indiana roads.
Bluffton appeared to have the most snowfall, according to the National Weather Service, reporting 8.3 inches Saturday.
It was just south of Bluffton, near where County Road 450 South crosses Indiana 1, that Tonia Copeland, 44, of Keystone, was killed in a wreck caused by the slippery roads.
The Wells County Sheriff’s Department said Copeland was driving her Chevrolet truck southeast on Indiana 1 when she lost control on the snow-covered road and began fishtailing. Her truck slid sideways across the centerline, into the path of a semi driven by Lonnie Stout of Portland.
Stout tried to stop, police said, but could not on the slick pavement. The semi hit the passenger side of Copeland’s truck, ripping it in half; police said the cab and motor separated from the frame before the vehicle slid into the south-side ditch. The semi jackknifed into the north-side ditch.
Copeland was declared dead at the scene, police said.
Dozens of slide-offs and fender benders were reported in Fort Wayne, where 7 inches of snowfall was recorded. As of 7 p.m., the snow on the ground was 5 inches deep at Fort Wayne International Airport.
At the National Weather Service’s Northern Indiana office in Syracuse, officials recorded 7.4 inches of snowfall, with 4.5 inches of that falling between 7 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. The snow on the ground there was 6 inches deep.
Ossian reported 6.2 inches, while Decatur had 8 inches fall. Angola reported 7.8 inches; Warsaw reported 6.3 inches. In Huntington, 6 inches of snowfall was reported.
The weather was not what merchants in Fort Wayne wanted to see: Holiday shopping analysts are already predicting a tepid consumer turnout. The National Retail Federation expects the average holiday shopper to spend $738 on gifts, décor, greeting cards and other items. That is 2 percent less than the $752 spent last year.
“Very slooow,” said Chris Lambert, owner of Christopher James Menswear at Covington Plaza.
“It was the first storm of the year, so that’s typical.”
Still, Lambert said Christmas shoppers could be out in force today.
“They may want to make up for Saturday because they missed a day,” he said.
Fort Wayne city officials said they would do their best to make it possible: Plowing crews worked all night Friday night and Saturday morning, with a fresh crew taking over Saturday afternoon. They planned to continue working through the night.
Frank Suarez, spokesman for the city’s Public Works Department, said the plows would remain on arterial streets to keep them as clear as possible for emergency vehicles. Once the snow stopped, they were to clean up the arterial and collector streets overnight and this morning. Suarez warned that motorists should still use caution today as colder temperatures will continue to create slick spots.
Officials said their goal is to begin plowing residential streets sometime today. If no more snow falls, crews will likely be able to plow all residential streets by Monday night, Suarez said.
Saturday, streets – even those that had been repeatedly plowed – were snow covered and slippery. But some, like Karen Perry, braved them anyway.
To look at her, you’d think Perry’s grandson dragged her to the downtown Allen County Public Library to get the Wii video game in his hand.
“Just out running some errands,” she said. “I know how to drive in the snow. I’ve been in the Midwest all my life. After we leave the library, I still have to get my hair cut yet.”
Rally’s, across from Harrison Square, was open Saturday, but burgers took a backseat to weather conditions, manager Cullen Boatwright said.
“Thought we’d see some holiday shopping traffic, but … not happening,” he said.