DaVante Williams and his passenger had already been sitting inside his blue BMW for at least five hours in Virginia.
But, like hundreds of motorists stranded by the storm that day, Williams and the teenager were at a standstill.
The teenager, who appeared exhausted and regularly called her parents to update them on the situation, was yet again on the verge of tears, Williams said. His car was losing gas by the minute as temperatures dropped, and he had resorted to turning off his vehicle for intervals of five minutes to preserve fuel and keep the heater on.
They had to get out of there somehow.
“I need to get out of this traffic because my anxiety is starting, and I’m in a car with a complete stranger,” Williams recounted in an interview with The Washington Post. “I’m responsible for her and me at this moment.”
So Williams, a property manager and real estate agent, asked the teen to put her parents on the phone so he could propose a plan to get their daughter home safely once the Virginia Department of Transportation reopened the road. In the meantime, he said, he would find a way to drive back to D.C. and pay for a hotel room for her so she could sleep for a couple of hours. As soon as the highway was cleared, Williams vowed, he would drive the girl home safely at no charge.
The act of kindness swiftly made national headlines as social media users praised Williams for going above and beyond his duties. Uber, which gave Williams a shout out on its Twitter account, later contacted him to reimburse him nearly $150 for the teenager’s hotel room, Williams, 32, told The Post.
“Mr. Williams went above and beyond during this very stressful situation, and we thank him for his thoughtful actions,” an Uber spokesperson told The Post in an email.
The biggest surprise came when the CEO of Alto, an upscale ride-sourcing service operating in Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami and D.C., offered Williams a part-time role supervising and training the company’s drivers.
Alto confirmed in an email to The Post that Williams has been extended a part-time offer with the luxury ride-share company.
“DaVante is exactly the type of customer and safety focused leader we are looking to help lead our DC presence,” Alex Halbardier, Alto’s chief customer officer, said in the email.
Williams was not the only motorist stuck on I-95 who performed a kind gesture to make the situation a bit less stressful for a stranger. A couple stranded on the interstate for about 16 hours called a bakery whose truck was also stranded nearby to ask if the truck’s driver could share bread with dozens of hungry motorists. For about an hour, the couple and the truck’s driver handed out about 300 packages of bread.
A 93-year-old retired orthodontist who was trapped on the icy interstate and later got lost found his way out thanks to a radio reporter, a travel planner, a police officer and hotel workers who helped him overcome his 39-hour odyssey. Other drivers handed food and drinks to hungry strangers.
Williams, who left his house early Tuesday without checking the news or any weather alerts, said he picked up the teenager at Union Station a little past 2 a.m. The girl — the fourth customer of the morning — shared that her parents had ordered her an Uber home after her train ride was canceled because of a derailment.
But what should have been a 2½-hour ride under normal circumstances quickly became a day-long journey to the girl’s home, Williams said. About 20 miles after getting onto I-95, Williams came across “tons” of cars and trailers with their brake lights on.
“I just figured out maybe it was a little fender bender, but when I got closer, I noticed traffic was not moving,” he told The Post. Williams managed to get off the highway, he said, but everywhere he drove he was met by a police officer or a state trooper who said those roads were also closed and advised him to get back on I-95.
First, his GPS indicated he would reach his destination about an hour and a half late. But as hours went by, Williams and the passenger realized they were likely to be stuck there for much longer.
“At this point we are just sitting on the same location, hours are starting to go by and people are starting to get off their cars to stretch,” Williams told The Post. “This doesn’t look good.”
He felt defeated until he saw a group of truck drivers backing up and directing other cars to clear the “gridlock,” he said. That’s when he asked the girl to put him in touch with her parents so he could explain his plan. Her parents were initially hesitant about having their daughter stay in a hotel, but after some back and forth, they gave him permission to drive back to D.C. and pay for the girl’s hotel room.
“I understand your fear and what’s going through your mind,” Williams told the girl’s mother. “But please see that this is coming from a genuine place. I just want her to be safe and get rest.”
He asked the mom to stay in touch with the girl after he checked her in at the hotel. After they arrived at the hotel in D.C. around 8:30 a.m. Tuesday, Williams asked the girl to text him once she had gotten some sleep. He returned to his home about two blocks away to do the same. Later that night, the teen texted him to thank him. She also shared that her parents had arranged for a family friend to pick her up. She made it home safely that night.
“At the end of the day, the situation was larger than me and it was not about the money,” Williams said. “It was about me doing the humane thing for me and her to be safe.”
Williams said he is scheduled to visit Alto’s D.C. office Friday to formally accept the job offer.