By all reasonable estimates, Sonora residents Jody and George Kellerman should be dead.
In the early evening of Jan. 27, an airborne, 300-pound, six-point buck hurtled through the front windshield of their 2004 Toyota Land Cruiser on Phoenix Lake Road.
By an extraordinary act of fate, the buck “literally threaded the needle” between them, said George Kellerman, 76.
“We just looked at each other and said, ‘The Lord is not done with us yet.’ It’s that kind of reality. Just a few more inches and I would have been killed.”
In the moments after the accident, Jody Kellerman, 61, the driver, was pinned to the right side of her seat in a tangled mass of antlers, deer hair, shattered glass and gore.
Calm but dazed, she brought the vehicle to a stop in the westbound lane of Phoenix Lake Road and was comforted by a female witness until law enforcement arrived.
Though she sustained lacerations to her face and arms, Jody Kellerman made an attempt at levity to assuage the concern of a California Highway Patrol officer approaching her window.
“I’m OK, but the deer wasn’t so lucky. It’s dead,” she recalled telling the officer. “I used to hunt deer with black powder, but I bagged the biggest one with a Toyota.”
The collision occurred when the deer hopped into the eastbound lane of Phoenix Lake Road near Meadow Brook Drive about 5:45 p.m. and was hit by the front driver’s side of a 2007 Toyota Prius driven by Dale Zgraggen, 62, of Sonora.
The deer was projected into the air and directly into the path of the Land Cruiser, where it blasted through the front windshield like “a concrete block,” Jody Kellerman said.
“I heard a bang, something hit me full on in the face and there was blood and glass everywhere,” she said. “I heard something and felt something. There was a deer head on my lap and it was gurgling and frothing blood.”
Minutes later, the deer appeared to be dead, she said.
The majority of the animal landed in the backseat, the CHP said, but the rear of the animal made direct impact with George Kellerman, who was in the passenger seat.
“I remember a loud bang or crash and then remembered saying to her, ‘I think I broke my shoulder,’ ” he said. “All this glass was shattered, and the window caved in and these antlers were on the dashboard.”
Jody Kellerman was likely hit in the face with a component above the dashboard that was dislodged by the impact with the deer, she said.
When the victims were evacuated, the deer remained inside. Before it was hauled out of the totalled vehicle, its head lay on the center console and it’s angular antlers framed the outside edges of the front seats.
Officer Ed Bushey arrived at the scene after Sgt. Randy Matyshock and Officer Mike Huddleston, who were administering aid to the victims and preparing traffic controls.
Though deer collisions were “very frequent in Tuolumne County” and often preventable, he said, the visible carnage at the scene suggested that the accident was “unavoidable.”
“A lot of this, in reality, is actually luck, and I don’t like to use that term. But with a deer coming through the window at that size and that speed, they missed major injuries by inches,” he said.
The Kellermans lauded the CHP and emergency responders for their professionalism and quick response to the scene, they said.
After being transported by ambulance to Adventist Health Sonora, the Kellermans began to reflect on the “physiological and psychological trauma” of the accident.
Jody Kellerman sustained a black eye and many cuts and lacerations to her face and hand due to the shattered glass, but no broken bones, she said.
George Kellerman sustained severe bruising to his left shoulder and arm from the impact with the deer and a mild a concussion that has limited his memory of the accident.
Both of them, Jody said, were covered in ticks from the close contact with the dead deer.
Zgraggen did not report any injuries as a result of the collision.
In the aftermath of the accident, the Kellermans are still “a little shaken” and opted to take the train on Friday to Los Angeles to see their son, a student at UCLA.
Jody Kellerman has been beset with nightmares about the deer waking up from her lap and fleeing the car, she said, but that has only deepened her resolve to be more proactive and install car-mounted deer whistles.
“We’re stiff, we’re bruised,” she said. “For now we’ll be gentle with ourselves.”
Contact Giuseppe Ricapito at (209) 588-4526 or email@example.com . Follow him on Twitter @gsepinsonora.