A twist of fate
It was one of those lightning storms that commands your attention. You know, the kind that makes you stop and stare.
That’s what Jennifer Freeh and her oldest daughter were doing during a spring morning at their home in Holly Springs, North Carolina. They watched the light show and remarked on the oddly colored sky. Then chaos ensued.
“My son came running in, saying, ‘Mom, a tree just fell on the house!’” Jennifer recalled.
His words were followed by the deafening roar of a tornado bearing down on the two-story home where Jennifer and her husband, Vince, lived with their seven children, ages 2 to 18.
“I started frantically trying to gather the kids and get them into the pantry where they would be safe—it was so loud and terrifying,” Jennifer said. “I could tell there were trees falling on the house, but didn’t know which way they were coming from. I was just trying to get the kids into a safe place. And then it was over so quickly.”
Fortunately, the pantry proved to be sturdy shelter for Jennifer and the kids. Vince, who had gone out to secure the garage door, also managed to survive the storm unscathed.
Their house and yard were another story entirely.
“I looked around at the devastation in our backyard and I really, truly just felt gratitude that nothing had happened to any of us,” Jennifer said.
But even with that gratitude came the growing understanding that they had a real mess on their hands. One of their first calls? Their Erie Insurance Agent and neighbor, Brian Woomer, of Woomer Insurance in Apex, North Carolina.
ERIE claims adjusters were at their home within hours, assessing the damage and reassuring the Freehs that everything would be taken care of.
“Brian was able to start the ball rolling right away,” Jennifer said. “We had a crane in our driveway the very next morning to start removing the trees from our property. About eight or nine houses right here in a row had trees on them, and it was more than a week later that some of the houses were still getting trees removed. Brian and ERIE focused on us. He made sure we were taken care of from the start.”
All too familiar
The Freehs had a bit of a test run with natural disasters a few years earlier when lightning struck their home, causing some damage. Through that experience, they got to know Brian Woomer.
In the aftermath of the tornado, they were glad they had. The twister had inflicted heavy damage to their house and property. Power lines had been ripped down, leaving the family without electricity for days. Trees littered their yard like matchsticks. Thick branches had punched gaping holes in several areas of their house and roof. The winds had shattered windows and left one downstairs room a “complete disaster,” with shards of glass and debris scattered everywhere.
“We were amazed at the difference in the care we received from ERIE as compared to what some of our neighbors were getting,” Jennifer said. “We were really impressed with everything that ERIE did, and Brian’s quick action really saved us a lot of headache and got us going on the right path quickly.”
“One of our favorite Brian stories was right after the tornado, we had a bunch of friends helping us clean up the backyard. One of Vince’s buddies picked up a mangled chair and said, ‘Hey Vince, do you need this for insurance purposes?’ and Vince yelled across the yard, ‘Hey Brian, do I need this for insurance purposes?’ His buddy
said, ‘Is that your insurance agent?’, Brian was out there helping us clean up as a helpful neighbor (who just so happens to be an insurance agent) and figuring out what we needed. That’s just unheard of these days.”
Service and flexibility
As the cleanup and repairs proceeded, the Freehs increasingly noticed they got service and responsiveness from ERIE that was the envy of many of their neighbors.
ERIE offered flexibility for some of the repairs and renovations related to the damage.
“We were able to put in a little of our own money and supplement the money from ERIE to upgrade from a screened-in porch to a four-season room, which has been very helpful for us as a big family,” said Vince.
With seven children, there are plenty of memories wrapped up in the Freehs’ home—a factor that made the tornado and its aftermath particularly traumatic and stressful; it also made their desire to get back to normal quickly all the more pressing.
“It’s so much more than a structure for us—this is truly home,” Jennifer said. “So many of our memories are here. It would be hard for us to leave this place, with all the memories of the kids growing up here.”
Taking care of a house and a family
The Freehs think their Agent and the claims representatives from ERIE had a good understanding of Customers’ emotions after going through a weather disaster.
“I feel like throughout this whole process ERIE’s number one priority was to make sure our family was taken care of,” Jennifer said. “There’s no amount of money that can help make children feel comfortable in their own home again. And ERIE went above and beyond to make this a human process for us.”
Vince appreciated the steps ERIE took to ease the stress related to the repairs.
“ERIE established an account with the contractors so that I didn’t have to worry about the bills,” Vince said. “They submitted them directly to ERIE. It really simplifies your life when you don’t have to cut the checks and you don’t have to negotiate the costs. I appreciated that.”
Vince said their experiences have made him an advocate for making sure friends and family know what they are getting in choosing their insurance.
“When you choose an insurance company, you can’t just look at the premium you’re paying,” he said. “You have to think about what’s going to happen to you if you have to make a claim. Having gone through this with ERIE and being satisfied and properly compensated, I don’t think I would look elsewhere—because who knows what you’re going to get.” •
Wherever you go, we’re right there with you
On a warm, blue-sky day, a Waunakee, Wisconsin, couple, Allen and Sue Larsen, tooled through central Florida in their 37-foot motor home. They were looking forward to a long weekend visiting friends at the beach. All, it seemed, was right with the world.
Until, that is, a large bird lifted off from a farmer’s field and flapped straight toward their RV. The Larsens assumed, as any traveler would, that the bird would veer. No such luck. The bird hurtled beak-first into their RV’s hood.
“It was like running into a bowling ball,” Allen said. “And the bird survived. After we collided, its wing went up over the windshield, right in front of me on the driver’s side. So now, the bird’s flapping like crazy, digging his claws into the fiberglass, and then he flies off right into my driver’s side mirror and rips it right off. Both the bird and the mirror fly off to the other side of the road.”
“That was the last we saw of our mirror—or the bird.”
A peaceful morning vanquished in a flurry of feathers. The Larsens motored on in shock.
“There was no point trying to salvage the mirror. We couldn’t pull over because there really wasn’t any shoulder other than the culvert, which was rather deep and sandy,” Sue said.
Yet Allen knew he wasn’t going far. A 37-foot RV has a pretty expansive blind spot. To maneuver safely, a driver’s side mirror is essential. They pulled over at the next stop and called the nearest RV dealer, but the mirror wasn’t in stock. Short of paying an arm and a leg for overnight shipping, it would take four or five days to arrive.
Their next call? ERIE Agent Mike Peterson with Baer Insurance Agency in Middleton, Wisconsin. Even though ERIE doesn’t write business in Florida, the couple knew from many years of RV travel and as ERIE Customers that they were covered by their policy across the United States.
This was a big deal
“This situation was pretty unusual,” Mike recalled. “We are talking about a big vehicle, a big mirror and a big bird.”
Mike was worried since the Larsens were on track for an extended weekend in the middle-of-Central- Florida-nowhere.
“Without a driver’s side mirror, you can’t change lanes, you can’t back up,” Mike said. “You really can’t safely drive a vehicle like that. It was a Friday afternoon and I’m thinking…this might not go well.”
Yet, Mike had seen ERIE come through in the clutch before. He called ERIE on the Larsens’ behalf, as he knew ERIE would go the extra mile.
Magic behind the scenes
ERIE Material Damage Adjuster Jeff Parmeter gathered all the peculiar details of this bird vs. RV encounter. He then did some quick legwork to assess what was possible.
“The Larsens were in a tough spot,” Jeff recalled. “Being in Florida for an extended vacation, they needed help right then. The right thing to do was to get them on the road as quickly as possible.”
Considering the predicament that the Larsens were in, Jeff fast-tracked the claim to get the mirror shipped overnight. He also got the green light for ERIE to pick up the shipping tab.
“I worked out the details to pay the shop directly and handle the overnight shipping,” Jeff said. “The magic happened behind the scenes. All the Larsens had to do was pay their deductible and continue on with their trip. I tried to make it as simple and seamless as possible for them.”
Indeed, the mirror arrived early the next morning. The Larsens hit the road before lunch.
Feeling of relief
“Things went very smoothly,” Sue said. “ERIE definitely worked with us. I was glad we could get on with our trip because we were staying at a campground right on the beach and didn’t want to spend the rest of our trip at the dealership waiting for a mirror.”
The Larsens made arrangements to repair the damage to the RV’s fiberglass when they returned home. “That went smoothly too,” Allen said.
“My background is actually in insurance, so I know what I’m looking for. ERIE certainly proved with this claim that they were right on top of things. In fact, as we were traveling on to our beach destination, Mike called just to make sure everything was taken care of. It was a very nice experience.”
“It was definitely an odd occurrence,” Sue said. “I’m just thankful that the bird didn’t go through the windshield— and that we were able to get the damage taken care of quickly.”
Although they are different stories and miles away from one another, the Larsens and the Freehs had one thing in common: They had ERIE policies and Agents whom they could rely on and trust when they needed them most.
You can hear more from these two families by watching their videos:
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