Location: San Diego, California
Date: May 19, 1991
On May 19, 1991, in San Diego, California, off-duty Sheriff's Deputy Lisa DiMeo was driving on Interstate 805, a major Southern California artery. Traffic was unusually heavy for a Sunday, and the cars were moving fast. Suddenly, a doe bounded out onto the freeway and was struck by a car in the lane next to Lisa. The doe went down, but the motorist, traveling at high speed, continued on. The doe was lying between the middle lanes of traffic, still alive, and Lisa was worried that if the animal tried to stand up, she would be hit again. Lisa pulled to the shoulder of the road and called for help over her police radio. Her call came into the San Diego Sheriff's Communication Center, which dispatched a California Highway Patrol unit to the scene. Lisa also contacted the California Department of Fish and Game, but they would not be available for one hour.
Gene Chaffin was driving southbound on I-805 when he spotted something lying in the roadway. He thought it was a large cardboard box, but as he got closer, he saw that it was a deer. Gene put on his flashers and stopped his truck in front of the deer to protect her from other motorists. Lisa stayed on her radio and relayed events to the dispatcher while Gene and another motorist moved the doe to the shoulder of the road. The animal was in bad shape and was suffering. It appeared that she had a compound fracture to her right leg.
Within minutes, Highway Patrol Officer Greg Mullendore arrived. He and Gene, who had grown up on a farm, agreed with dismay that the most humane thing to do was to put the deer out of its misery. Mullendore had never shot an animal before, and he was glad when it was over. Putting the doe down was an upsetting experience for everybody.
After the doe died, Gene noticed that her stomach was moving, as if something inside her was kicking. It dawned on him that the doe was pregnant. Suddenly his focus shifted from ending the doe's life to trying to save her fawn. Gene knew it was only a matter of minutes before the fawn died of oxygen deprivation. He ran back to his truck and grabbed a utility knife. He returned, cut open the doe's belly, and delivered a fully formed fawn. Unfortunately, although it had a pulse, the fawn wasn't breathing.
Gene had never administered CPR to an animal, but he knew that time was running out. He performed "mouth-to-snout" resuscitation, and, within minutes, the fawn started breathing on its own. "When she took her first breath, it was a great feeling," Gene recalled. "It was--yeah! I thought, wow, we saved her. It was a once in a lifetime uplifting feeling."
As Gene managed to get a little milk down the fawn's throat, someone proposed the name Freeway. Everybody chuckled, but the name stuck. Lisa drove Freeway and Gene to a nearby exotic animal hospital in her van. At the hospital, Freeway was cleaned up and her cord was tied. Her "foster father," Gene, was honored with cutting the umbilical cord. Gene and Lisa glowed with satisfaction that Freeway had survived.
The next day, Freeway was moved to the home of a zoo volunteer, who is raising her in her backyard with the hope that she'll eventually be released into the wild. When Gene and Lisa visited Freeway, she was very healthy and active. "Gene did something remarkable out there," says Lisa. "Something beyond what most people would have done. To me he's a hero." Gene thinks Freeway is incredibly lucky to be alive. "This whole experience was probably the most rewarding thing I've ever done," he says. "Something like this happens to you only once in a lifetime. It was definitely a wonderful experience."