She was conscious while pinned after the fatal crash. Fundraiser aims to help her heal

Woman grateful for outpouring of community support after being injured in fatal car crash

Jessica Woodington will be the subject of a fundraiser dinner after her feet were severely injured after a head-on crash that killed the other driver in July near Bass Lake.
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Jessica Woodington will be the subject of a fundraiser dinner after her feet were severely injured after a head-on crash that killed the other driver in July near Bass Lake.

Jessica Woodington can still picture the vehicle that crashed into her as it drifted across the double yellow line, the violence of metal crushing metal, and the frantic, agonizing minutes that ensued as she sat trapped in her front seat.

Drivers traveling along Road 222 (Bass Lake Road) on July 24 pulled over to try and help. One of the first to stop that afternoon, a utility worker, grabbed a saw out of his truck and tried to cut her out of her Hyundai Tucson. The saw broke.

Another, seeing there was no cell phone service along this rural stretch in eastern Madera County, drove down the road to call 911.

The force of the crash broke and shattered bones in Woodington’s feet, now jammed into her mid-size SUV, and the connective tissue between her upper lip and gums ripped.

“She had blood coming from her nose and mouth,” recalled her passenger, Ryan Williams, who sustained minor injuries from the accident. “You could see the fear in her eyes, too.”

The 31-year-old feared her vehicle might catch fire as she waited for emergency responders. When firefighters arrived, she feared the Jaws of Life tool used to free her might accidentally cut her. A compassionate paramedic threw his arm between Woodington and the instrument, assuring the Oakhurst woman that “if someone gets cut, it will be me.”

A helicopter came to transport her to the hospital. She would learn that the driver of the Kia Forte that hit her, Haroleen Bowlan, 69, of Oakhurst, died at the scene of the crash.

The California Highway Patrol said Bowlan’s car crossed the double yellow line for an unknown reason while she was driving west on Road 222 and collided with Woodington’s vehicle, traveling east, near Pettitt Road.

To help support Woodington, a fundraiser dinner will be held at 6 p.m. Sept. 19 at El Cid Mexican Restaurant in Oakhurst, sponsored by Helping One Woman, a group that raises money for women in need.

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Jessica Woodington has her feet examined by Dr. Jacob Thompson, chief of podiatry at Kaiser Permanente Fresno on Tuesday, Sept. 4, 2018. CRAIG KOHLRUSS ckohlruss@fresnobee.com

Road to recovery

It’s crucial that her bones heal right. Woodington is on her feet for hours every day as a server at both El Cid and The Pines Resort in Bass Lake – where she was heading with Williams, a cook there, at the time of the accident.

The Yosemite High School graduate is also an avid runner – and dog walker, for her five rescue dogs.

“She has done very well,” said Dr. Jacob Thompson, chief of podiatry at Kaiser Permanente Fresno. “This is a traumatic experience and it’s a long recovery. … You can get depressed from this. You can’t do the things you used to do, the things that you want to do. When you’re in a cast for months and months, it can wear on you.”

Among the tough changes: Considering that she may need a career change, not being able to enjoy her normal daily three-mile walk or jog, and being told she likely won’t be able to wear her collection of pretty high heels again.

It’s unknown when Woodington’s bones will fully heal, or when she can return to work.

The Sept. 19 fundraiser aims to offset lost wages while she’s unable to work, help with medical expenses, and buy her a new vehicle. Woodington wants it to be a sturdy truck. Traveling to and from doctor appointments since the accident has been nerve-wracking.

“I think about it a lot,” Woodington said of the accident, “and it stresses me out and gives me anxiety before I go to sleep or when I wake up.”

Part of the anxiety is imagining how much worse the accident could have been.

“I want people to drive slower,” she said.

“There was a head-on collision four days after mine, in the same area,” she said. “People need to slow down, that’s for sure.”

Insurance should cover much of Woodington’s major medical expenses, but there are unknowns. There’s a future emotional recovery needed along with physical therapy, and possibly a second surgery to remove a metal plate in one foot.

Woodington is grateful for her life, and for all the support she’s received from a giving community and her fiancé. Their fridge is full off free cooked meals from generous coworkers.

“There’s no way to describe how much I appreciate everything that’s already been done for me. … I’ve had so much help.”

Carmen George: 559-441-6386, @CarmenGeorge

How to help

A Helping One Woman dinner fundraiser to support Jessica Woodington, with raffle prizes and a caricature artist, will be held at 6 p.m. Sept. 19 at El Cid Mexican Restaurant, 41939 Highway 41, Oakhurst. RSVP by calling 559-658-5428. Tickets are $10.

Other donations can be made by calling Woodington’s sister, Melissa Zamorano, at 562-351-8731.