The family has set up a gofundme account for Derek Sonnenfelt.

https://www.gofundme.com/help-derek-recover

A Sonora resident smashed by a pickup truck against the concrete wall of PriceCo Foods in East Sonora Sunday morning may lose his right leg, but his spirits remain high, his friends and family said.

Derek Sonnenfelt, 33, a plumber with Waters Plumbing, Heating and Air in Sonora, is not one to hold grudges, his mother, Patty Sonnenfelt, 64, said.

A 90-year-old Sonora man was parking his pickup in front of PriceCo Foods and accidentally stepped on the accelerator, sending his vehicle through a display of watermelons and into Sonnenfelt.

Derek Sonnenfelt has been in the surgical intensive care unit at Doctors Medical Center in Modesto since the accident, Patty Sonnenfelt said, in and out of surgeries, procedures and evaluations of his “crushed” right leg.

But one of the first things he asked his family and friends upon regaining consciousness was whether the man driving the pickup, Richard Williams, had survived the accident, too.

“He was genuinely concerned about the man. He thought he was going to have a heart attack,” Patty Sonnenfelt said.

She said their family is struggling to adjust to the possibility that Derek — an avid hiker, angler, all-around adventurist and father to a 2-year-old son, Jase — could live the rest of his life missing part of his leg.

After the accident, Derek Sonnenfelt was medflighted to Doctors Medical Center, where surgeons worked for more than four hours reconstructing the veins in his mangled right leg. He was taken back to surgery on Monday night because blood was not circulating in his leg and there was no feeling in his right foot. The surgeons transferred veins from his left leg into his right leg and, by Tuesday, Derek Sonnenfelt had developed a pulse and some color.

“That's step one for keeping the leg,” Patty Sonnenfelt said.

But even if blood flow can be reestablished in the limb, Derek’s femur is smashed and all of his leg bones are being held in place by a brace, she said.

The harrowing circumstances would have debilitated anyone else, she said, but her son’s optimism is unwavering.

“His attitude right now is excellent. He has a whole excellent attitude toward losing the leg. If that's the case, he's going to make the best of it. He's not the kind of guy to have anything keep him down,” she said.

The strangest and most upsetting circumstances, still, she added, was how the incident actually occurred.

Derek Sonnenfelt just returned to town from a reunion with friends in Livermore when he went to PriceCo to choose a watermelon from an outdoor display.

Over the previous days, Derek had asked family, friends and coworkers, (and even posted to Facebook) about how to select a ripe and edible watermelon.

“He kept buying bad watermelons,” Patty Sonnenfelt said.

Even on Friday, his boss, Debbie Waters, 68, who has known him since childhood, remembered her employees discussing Friday morning “about watermelons and about how to pick a good watermelon.”

Derek Sonnenfelt was given advice to “thump” on them and listen for a proper resonance, she said, which is what he was likely doing when the accident occurred.

Patty Sonnenfelt said that after her son was freed he looked down at his leg and saw that it “was flat from the knee down.”

If the leg must be amputated, she said, it will likely be from the knee down.

But a disability would not inhibit a man with so much local friendship and support in the community, Patty Sonnenfelt and Debbie Waters said.

Debbie Waters remembers Derek as a friend of her son’s ever since childhood, back when she and Patty Sonnenfelt were church friends.

Raised in Jamestown, Derek Sonnenfelt went to a technical institute in Arizona before becoming a draftsman in the Bay Area. When he wanted to return home about 10 years ago, Debbie Walters and her son snapped him up for a job.

“That's what we look for employees. Skills are important, but character is first,” she said. “As far as an employee, he is just first rate.”

Known in Tuolumne County for flying a “huge American flag” from the back of his Silverado truck, Derek Sonnenfelt’s mother said the accident will not stop him from contributing to the community and helping out those in need.

“He's been everywhere, and everybody likes him. Just a nice guy. He would do anything he could for anybody,” she said.

Debbie Waters said, “It happened to such a fine young man, just on his own, and minding his own business. Life turns like that sometimes. You can’t expect it.”

Contact Giuseppe Ricapito at (209) 588-4526 or gricapito@uniondemocrat.com . Follow him on Twitter @gsepinsonora.

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