BLOUNTVILLE – Angels exist and Christmas miracles happen. Just ask two families brought together by what both believe to be the hand of God to save an 89-year-old man from the burning wreckage of his car on Christmas Day.
JD Winegar was on his way home from a family reunion when he lost control of his car, hit a tree and rolled over near 528 Hawley Road. It is on this road that he lives. He was about half a mile from his home.
Winegar’s seat belt held him in place in the driver’s seat, upside down. The engine was off. But the radio continued to play, like a weak but fixed beacon on the uncrowded road.
Moments later, father and son Tim and Brandon Keller arrived by car.
Tim, 62, told The Times News he initially thought the car, set back from the road in the woods, may have been wrecked the night before and been abandoned there. But he stopped to make sure no one was in the car.
Tim and Brandon, 31, were on their way to pick up a friend to go deer hunting.
They weren’t on a set schedule and left home before they otherwise would have after another of Tim’s sons they were expecting told them he wouldn’t be able to come. .
“We come to the corner and I said ‘Oh my God, look there’,” Tim said of the overturned sedan. “I stopped next to it and got out and walked over to him.”
He touched a door and felt the vibrations produced by the music on the radio.
“I knew then that it probably just happened,” Tim said. “I told my son to call 911 and said I was going to take the hatchet. I had an ax in the truck. I knelt down in front of the passenger side rear window and broke it, got down on my knees and stuck my head in and said, “Is anyone here?” and JD said, ‘Yes.’ “
Tim asked if anyone else was in the car and heard Winegar say “no”.
“I went on the driver’s side, sitting against the woods and could see that I would never be able to get in that way,” Tim said. “I went to the back window and knocked him out and crawled in. I’m a fat guy and couldn’t get my hands on (Winegar).”
Tim told Brandon that he should be the one to crawl into the car and free Winegar.
“At that point, we could see smoke coming out of the car,” Brandon said. “I handed the phone (with 911 on the other end) to daddy.”
As he got into the car, he realized that even with his average height, it would be difficult to move quickly and get out if something happened, “like the vehicle was on fire.”
“As I was creeping in there, I kept saying ‘God help me. God help us. Give us God time. Help us, God,’ Brandon said.
Winegar said he was stuck in his seat belt.
“I reached out as best I could and my hand almost immediately went to the button to release his seat belt, and he fell onto the roof,” Brandon said.
This was around the time Tim noticed the car was on fire.
“Dad said, very low so Mr. Winegar wouldn’t hear him, ‘Brandon, you’re going to have to hurry, the car is on fire.’ “said Brandon. “I said to him (Winegar), ‘Brother, I’m going to slip my hand under your face and pull. I pulled, but it didn’t come all the way. His arm was tangled in the seat belt and with one hand, that seat belt came loose from him, thank goodness.
Tim and Brandon took Winegar down the road away from the car and looked back to see that he “was swallowed up”.
“Another 60 seconds and it would have been too late,” said Tim.
They called 911 to report the fire. Six minutes had passed between calls.
Tim said he had no formal training in emergency response other than military service and some previous experiences.
“I’m so glad my dad was there even though I was in the car,” Brandon said. “Much of my father’s wisdom was what saved this man, that and the good Lord. It was the greatest intervention of God that I have ever seen in my life. After dad and I got in the truck, we burst into tears and hugged because we were just starting to figure out what really happened.
The Kellers never saw Winegar in person again. Again. But they did speak with son Mike Winegar and daughter Pam Winegar Elliott, who thanked them on several occasions.
On social media, Pam posted that her father was continuing to recover and had no broken bones.
And she describes Tim and Brandon as “the angels who were sent to save my father. We can’t thank them enough for being brave enough to do what they did. Most people would have called 911 and looked, but these men took action and we will be eternally grateful to them. Thank you for being our Christmas miracle Timothy Keller and Brandon Keller!
In another article, Pam wrote, “What we have learned is that God is so good! He sent an angel to my father.
Brandon’s wife Rachel Fritts Keller also posted about the rescue on social media, including “… there is a God !! That’s the proof ! Miracles happen and we were able to witness a miracle… a real CHRISTMAS MIRACLE !! If they had been seconds later, things would have been so different for this family.
“I’m so thankful that God saved this man’s life, but also that he took care of my selfless husband and stepfather as they lay in the vehicle trying to get the man out. . So many scenarios played out in our minds but God took care of all 3 of them! “
According to the accident report filed with the Sullivan County Sheriff’s Office:
• Officers responded at 3:55 pm Christmas Day and found the Toyota “engulfed in flames with smoke billowing from the front of the car”.
• Emergency medical responders and firefighters were on the scene.
• The completed investigation indicated that, based on his medical history, the officer believed Winegar was unconscious before losing control of the car, hitting the tree and overturning.