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Riding out the storm: Mother, son spend 16 hours trapped in car during blizzard

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GRAND FORKS – The pepperonis weren’t much, but they were all Latesa Adamsen and her 6-year-old son, Dylan Ryba, had to eat.

The small pieces of meat had been pried off a few frozen pizzas after being warmed by a car’s heat vent.

“(Dylan) said, ‘Why don’t we stick matches in the pizza and heat it that way?’ ” Adamsen said Tuesday. She can laugh about it now, but last Friday’s events didn’t seem so funny at the time.

The meager dinner was all the mother and son had for food when they were trapped for 16 hours in a car while a blizzard raged around them. Their Volkswagen Jetta was stuck in a ditch on Grand Forks County Road 9 west of Larimore and south of Niagara.

The pair survived with only minor frostbite from a short-lived trip outside the car and a lesson to pass on to others: Be prepared.

As she was leaving her job at Good Samaritan Society home care on Friday, Adamsen said she had no idea a winter storm was headed her way.

She picked up Dylan and they started the drive to their rural home about 12 miles out of Larimore.

Blowing snow cut visibility to nearly zero, but for a few miles Adamsen was able to follow another car. When she turned onto County Road 9, she couldn’t see a thing.

She lost sight of the road and – at less than 10 mph – Adamsen drove into the ditch.

A broken phone that wouldn’t hold a charge kept her from calling for help. Her GPS later revealed she was only about 2½ miles from home.

Adamsen’s attempts to dig out the car were thwarted by winds reaching more than 35 mph – creating deadly wind chills.

When she checked the time, it was 7 p.m.

“I just knew we would be staying overnight,” she said.

The car’s position in the ditch allowed the tailpipe to remain exposed, making it possible for Adamsen to keep the vehicle running.

“You think we would have been more prepared,” Adamsen said Tuesday as she recalled the lack of blankets or a survival kit in the car.

As conditions cleared, Adamsen and Dylan noticed a farm in the distance.

A native of Sacramento, Calif., she wasn’t brought up with the constant warning for stranded motorists to stay with their vehicles.

They decided they would try for the farm in the morning if the wind died down.

Morning came and, after fashioning a scarf and facemask from hand towels and an old bra for Dylan, they stepped out of the car.

They made it about 50 feet from the car before they fled back to the car.

The excursion resulted in minor frostbite on Dylan’s earlobe and Adamsen’s back and two fingers.

As the hours ticked by, the needle on the idling car’s gas gauge slid closer to empty.

Adamsen and Dylan cuddled in the backseat.

Holding her son, Adamsen said, “Why don’t we pray to God and see if he can help us?”

A moment later, just before 11 a.m., their prayer seemed to be answered.

A man in a snowplow came upon the car and pulled it from the ditch. Adamsen said the Jetta ran out of gas as soon as it was on the road.

In what seemed like another case of perfect timing, a van driven by Adamsen’s fiancé, Ryan Ryba, accompanied by daughter Caitlyn, pulled up to the scene. The van had refused to start just two days earlier.

In the time since her rescue, Adamsen said she has received many lectures about winter survival from friends and family.

“People always think it won’t happen to them,” she said.

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