TETON COUNTY, Idaho - While many were enjoying Fourth of July celebrations, the day started off as a scary one for our TV family here at Local News 8 & Eyewitness News.
Early in the morning, Stephanie Hale-Lopez was driving herself and fellow reporter Christina Jensen from Idaho Falls to Driggs to cover the Teton Valley Balloon Rally when they struck a moose on U.S. 26.
"I seriously think someone was watching over us," said Hale-Lopez. "We knew that there were going to be animals out."
At 5 a.m. on an Idaho mountain road, Hale-Lopez knew every bend in the pavement was a chance for something unexpected.
"We thought we had to be extra vigilant, even more than usual," said Hale-Lopez. "The roads were really slick. It started to rain."
The elements were against her, and she'd soon realize just how unforgiving Mother Nature can be.
"Out of the corner of my eye, I saw this huge moose," said Hale-Lopez. "I slammed on the brakes, the moose just kept walking in front of the car. We hit it. The impact was severe."
Hale-Lopez kept her hands firmly on the wheel and slowly kept driving.
"The windshield had caved in, there was glass everywhere," said Hale-Lopez.
For a mile and a half, Hale-Lopez was driving blind.
"All that I was thinking was I have to make sure the car just follows the curve of the road, because the Snake River is right next to us," said Hale-Lopez. "If I make one mistake the car will roll over, and we will go into the river."
Finally she found a place to stop. Idaho State Police Trooper, Neil Stevens, arrived on scene.
"She held onto the steering wheel, kept the vehicle on the road. She pushed through it," said Stevens.
Stevens said the way Hale-Lopez guided the car slowly ahead, without panicking was exemplary, and likely saved her life and Jensen's.
"Where she was there was an embankment, and she would have gone straight into the river," said Stevens.
Stevens said if you do strike wildlife with your car, the best thing to do is keep calm and stay cool.
He said drivers who over react tend to do so with their steering wheels, often veering off the road, making a bad accident worse.
Back at home, Hale-Lopez is taking it easy with the dogs after her ordeal. She said in those horrible moments, she could only think about one thing.
"Christina my passenger. Because I felt it was my responsibility as the driver to get us out of that situation."
That situation that could have been so much worse.
"It's just like ramming into a cement wall," said Hale-Lopez. "People don't escape with just a neck brace. So I'm very lucky."
Hale-Lopez suffered some major whiplash in that crash, but doctors said it's incredible she wasn't more severely injured.
Jensen is also recovering from major whiplash and a concussion.
The moose died.