KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT/WYMT) - A Good Samaritan stepped up to help a woman who spent the night inside her car on the side of I-640 Wednesday after potholes opened up causing two flat tires.
Carlos Paugaga said he could barely understand her, but he knew Henrietta French needed help. She said she couldn't afford new tires or a tow truck so he overcame their language barrier to help.
"She needed help. That's why I did it." Carlos had a flat tire too, but says he felt called to help out.
Carlos doesn't speak much English, but his son helped him tell the story.
"He just wanted to help her in that moment. He just felt like 'if I can help her, I have to do something." said Carlos Jr.
Carlos not only bought two new tires for French, but also offered her dinner and paid to put gas in her car.
French referred to Carlos as her saving grace.
"God sent an Angel to look over me and that was Carlos" said French.
She said the experience of being trapped was humiliating.
"I'm just gonna be plain, I urinated on myself. I'm on medication for a lot of things and I'm stuck right here stinking in my car," French said.
She said she wasn't alone, a line of cars were pulled over as well, all suffering flat tires. She said she was the only one who was stranded overnight.
"I was driving down the road and it was pouring down rain - cats and dogs you might say. I hit a big huge pothole — probably more than one it sounded like, and immediately I knew it blew my tires out...I'm telling you, it was devastating."
On Thursday morning, TDOT crews started emergency pothole repairs along I-640. Crews offered to change French's tire and call her a tow truck but she refused because she couldn't afford the tow.
French late said that a person who had also pulled over with flat tires on I-640 bought her two new tires.
“I’ll be okay, I’m so thankful God had his angels watching over me. He sent those guys to buy me a tire and sent you and Pat to watch over me. If you all hadn’t stayed with me and checked on me I might be dead.”
She said she was going to pay the man back.
"Whoever is responsible for these potholes, and I don't know who is, but this is Knoxville, right? Knoxville needs to fix the potholes and make sure this interstate stays safe for everyone. I mean everyone, I don't care who they are. "
If you do hit a pothole and damage your vehicle, you can file a claim through the Division of Claims Administration. However, the claims administration said that only about one percent of claims were approved in 2018.
According to an official, 1,200 applications were sent in for approval in 2018, but only 12 were approved.
TDOT said that the 'burden of proof' is on the driver, and drivers have to prove the state's negligence. Investigators will look at multiple factors including whether or not a pothole has been fixed before and whether or not TDOT had time to fix it if it has been reported previously.
Drivers have to submit documentation along with their claims which include an estimate, and, any incidents with potholes have to occur on a state road for them to be considered for approval.
You can call 615-741-2734 for more information.