BLOUNTVILLE, Tenn. (WJHL) – On Christmas day, what could have ended in tragedy for a local family, instead, had a happy ending.
Father and son Tim and Brandon Keller were driving down Hawley Road in Blountville, off to a hunting trip that afternoon, when they saw something that stopped them in their tracks.
“At first I thought maybe somebody had just abandoned a vehicle they had wrecked,” said Tim.
A car was upside down and crumpled into a tree on the side of the road.
Call it intuition – the Kellers thought they would check and make sure no one was in the car.
“I got out, walked over to the vehicle and put my hand up against it and I could feel the radio playing,” said Tim.
“It was like a light switched,” his son Brandon added. “It went from zero to a hundred in a matter of just half a second when he told me to call 911.”
89-year-old J.D. Winegar, who lived just down Hawley Road, was trapped inside the crushed car.
Tim grabbed a hatchet from his truck and busted out the passenger window.
Realizing they would not be able to easily pull Mr. Winegar from the driver’s side, they hatched a new plan.
After calling 911, Brandon crawled inside the vehicle, successfully loosening Mr. Winegar from the seatbelt.
“I said, you’re gonna have to hurry, the car is on fire,” Tim told his son as he watched flames burst from underneath the hood of the car.
“I just kept repeating to myself I said Lord, please help us. Please give us time. Help us God,” said Brandon.
Knowing the clock was ticking, both men grabbed onto Mr. Winegar and pulled.
“As I climbed out we jerked him out and carried him up the road. As we turned around the car was just in blazes,” said Brandon.
Another 60 seconds and the Kellers say they would have been too late. In the right place, at the right time, they saved Mr. Winegar’s life before police could arrive.
EMS arrived on scene moments later and began to attend to Mr. Winegar, who was bleeding from his head, and transported him to the emergency room.
“There was no other traffic, no more cars came by, not one person,” said Tim.
“It was the most vivid intervention of God I have ever seen in my life,” added Brandon.
Tim says he thanks Hannah Taylor with the Avoca Volunteer Fire Department for checking on he and his son after the rescue to make sure they were okay emotionally.
The Kellers describe embracing and crying in the car in astonishment of what they had just done.
Back at Winegar’s home, a voice message was left on the answering machine. His daughter, Pam Elliott, checking in on her father.
“Well I guess you haven’t made it home yet,” Pam’s voice echoed into the kitchen on the machine. “We are in Bean Station. I was just going to make sure you made it home.”
Pam Elliott had offered to drive her father that Christmas Day before they left for their next stop. She said her dad insisted on driving.
“The first thing he said to me in the ER was, you tried to tell me didn’t you. And I said, yes I did!” Pam said with a smile.
Seconds after she left the message on her father’s answering machine she got the call that her dad had been miraculously saved from a burning vehicle by two strangers.
“It had to be those two men, at that time, with the equipment and the knowledge that they had. They saw that there was an urgent need and they did what they had to to get my dad out,” Elliott said.
Gratitude doesn’t begin to cover it for Winegar’s family. They believe this was an act of God.
“The whole thing was just a miracle. We’ve all said it was a Christmas miracle. Our Christmas could have been a very different outcome than what we had,” said Elliott.
The Kellers do not want to be hailed as heroes. The father and son say they simply did what they knew was right; what they would hope anyone would do.
“I was just doing what I felt like the Lord was using us for. Part of his plan. I don’t feel worthy to be honored or looked up to or anything. I just point my finger to heaven and say, look what he’s done. Look what he’s done,” said Brandon.
Sullivan County Sheriff Jeff Cassidy honored the Keller men for their bravery, presenting them both with plaques Tuesday night as a way to say thank you for their quick action in saving a life.
Elliott says her father is in physical therapy, working to overcome injuries sustained in the wreck. He is expected to make a full recovery and could be released in just a few days.
Winegar was able to speak with Tim Keller on the phone Tuesday.
“What little he could say to him he said, ‘I don’t know how to thank you. I want to meet you, I didn’t get to meet you properly before,’ he said, ‘I want to meet you,'” Pam said.
She said her father is already planning a big family dinner, with the Kellers, so he can properly thank them for saving his life.