‘Miracle’ crash featured on TV
GARDNERVILLE – George Fujii watched helplessly as a truck crashed into his wife’s Expedition at 61 mph, tossing it off East Valley Road.
“That one moment, you could see the lights approaching the gaps between the houses on the cross street,” Fujii said, recalling the Jan. 2001 accident. “My brain was barely putting it together as the cars approached each other.
“I shouted, ‘No, no, no, no, no!’ – and then they hit. It was just unbelievable … something you can’t even imagine.”
The Expedition rolled four times, ejecting Jill Fujii through the windshield on the first flip, but carrying her son, Shane Miller, 15, through the last three.
The driver of the truck was tossed through his windshield and thrown headfirst into a bed of river rock.
It was the type of moment that families don’t even want to think about, but everyone involved survived.
The Fujiis’ accident recently caught the attention of PAX TV’s “It’s a Miracle.”
Crews visited Carson Valley last month to recreate eyewitness accounts of the accident for the show.
Jill Fujii submitted her story to the show several months ago. Out of more than 4,000 submissions, it became one of 20 finalists.
“We watch the show all the time,” Jill Fujii said. “They called us and told us not to get our hopes up.
“The following week we got a call saying they absolutely wanted to do our story.”
The show, hosted by former “Touched by an Angel” star Roma Downey, airs on PAX TV weekdays at 11 p.m. and on Sunday nights at 10 p.m.
It hadn’t been determined at press time when the Fujiis’ story would air.
The miracle for the Fujiis wasn’t so much in what happened that night, but what didn’t happen.
The family left their gym, West Coast Martial Arts and Gymnastics, next to the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office, at 9 p.m. on Jan. 28, 2001.
Jill Fujii’s 9-year-old daughter, Tave Kuckhoff, normally rode home with her mother, but on that night, George Fuji asked if Tave wanted to ride with him.
“He’d asked before if she wanted to go with him, and that day she said OK, which she’d never done before,” Jill said.
The two cars headed south on East Valley. They were only about a block away from home when George saw the lights of the truck approaching on Crockett Lane.
The stop sign that held Crockett traffic at the intersection had been removed by vandals nearly two years prior. George knew an impact was all but inevitable.
“(The truck) T-boned us, and the car started its first flip,” Jill said. “I came out the windshield, and Shane was still in the car.
“I was on the ground, and I looked up and saw the car flipping. When it finally stopped, I saw him moving so I knew he was OK, and I laid back down.”
George ran to his wife.
“He came running up to me saying ‘Oh my God, oh my God, she’s dead!'” Jill said. “I’m thinking, ‘S—, I’m dead, how the hell did this happen?’ I really thought I was dead.”
She was flown to Carson-Tahoe, where she was released with some substantial damage to her teeth. Otherwise, her injuries were minimal.
It took paramedics more than an hour with the Jaws of Life to remove Shane, but he also walked away with minimal injuries.
Kodi Fujii, 15, was home alone at the time of the accident.
“I got a call from my brother, who is a paramedic, that there was a bad accident down the street from us,” Kodi said. “I found out that it was them, and I had to call to tell my brother.”
Much later, Kodi found out her family was going to be OK.
The reality of how much of a tragedy had been averted hit after the wreckage was investigated. The point of impact was where Tave normally sits.
“She has to sit in the middle anywhere we go now,” Jill said.
The driver of the other vehicle sustained severe head injuries.
“He can talk and take care of himself, but he has basically forgotten the last 20 years,” Fujii said. “His wife has often said it’s a miracle he’s even alive.”
The stop sign was replaced about a year after the accident.
It took film crews nearly five hours to recreate the accident.
“They strapped us to the boards and filmed the cars speeding toward each other and everything,” Jill Fujii said.
Representatives from the East Fork Fire and Paramedic Districts made sure everything stayed safe and also served as extras.