By Bob Kasarda
The Times, Munster
Kouts — Crown Point residents Rigo and Claudia Garcia sat stranded Sunday night along a rural stretch of Ind. 8 just outside of Kouts, watching a snow drift climb higher along their SUV, when they spotted lights in the distance.
As the lights slowly neared over the next 45 minutes, the couple was surprised to see a large tractor digging its way through the snow toward them and other vehicles scattered across the road and in nearby ditches.
The tractor's driver, who reached the stranded motorists during the county's state of emergency when other emergency officials could not, turned out to be nearby farmer and business owner Chris Birky.
"I called my wife and said, 'You better start cleaning. We are going to have people over,'" Birky told The Times.
After helping each of the occupied vehicles to his driveway through a path he had cleared in the highway, the Birky family welcomed the strangers into their home, where they remained Monday afternoon while waiting for highways to reopen.
"This family is unbelievable," Rigo Garcia said.
Not only have the stranded motorists been treated to movies and entertainment from the family's children, but they have also been served homemade meals, provided dry clothing and a comfortable place to sleep.
Birky, who owns a catering company, Piggies & Cream restaurants in Kouts and North Judson, and Birky's Country Market and Bakery in Kouts, said he just felt moved to help after noticing the blinking car lights on the highway in front of his house.
"You just got to do what God tells you to do," he said.
Birky said it took him three hours to clear the path to the stranded motorists and to help pull their vehicles into position to reach the safety of his driveway.
Rigo, who was on his way home from his nursing job in Winamac when the fierce winter storm brought a scary halt to his commute, said the story of his rescue became even more inspiring when he learned Birky had been unable to get the tractor started before Sunday night and has not been able to get it started since.
The six stranded motorists planned to stay put until a plow finally makes it down the stretch of Ind. 8 between U.S. 421 and Ind. 49.
"The last thing we want to do is leave in this," Rigo said.