If Marty Kelly had moved his truck forward, instead of backward on Nov. 26, he's not sure what would've happened.
Weeks after becoming sheriff-elect of Goodhue County, Kelly was injured in a wood-cutting accident on his property. An oak tree that needed to come down spun, falling a different way than he originally thought, and crushed him.
With injuries ranging from broken ribs and vertebrae to a torn meniscus, Kelly somehow got up to his Ranger and headed back toward the house. If he had parked his ranger forward, it likely would've been crushed.
He has no answer for why he moved the vehicle backward. He just did.
“It’s a miracle," Kelly said.
Now "elect" no longer part of his title , for the last eight months -- while recovering from his serious injuries -- Kelly is adjusting to his new role and looking to make a difference.
His doctors have given Kelly a year to fully heal. Kelly said he's made great progress, saying he qualified to use his handgun in April, which put him ahead of the curve by three to four months. Even with five metal pins placed in his hand and an irritating thumb, he believes his recovery is going well.
“I try not to complain," Kelly said about the pain and soreness.
Immediately, Kelly and the department was tasked with replacing numerous positions held by individuals with decades of experience.
“I had to get a whiteboard to keep up on all the hiring," Kelly said.
The whiteboard has fewer positions needed to be filled, but at one point there were as many as 12. Kelly said when you have 304 years of combined experience walking out of the door -- Kelly includes previous Sheriff Scott McNurlin and Interim-Sheriff Kris Johnson -- it's tough to deal with in a short amount of time.
“I knew coming in, first six months, all personnel," Kelly said. "It’s just going to be getting people in places that we need them. Fill some jobs.”
Add on the fact that within three days of being on the job, a radio in the jail failing didn't make it any easier on staff.
Luckily for Kelly, Jeremy Lerfald was hired as chief deputy and Paul Gielau -- Kelly's opponent in the sheriff's race -- stayed on until June to oversee the patrol side of the department.
“He just continued on with how he was operating," Kelly said of Gielau. The two were high school classmates. "We worked great together. So I didn’t have to worry. I felt really comfortable with the staff we still had.”
To become sheriff wasn't a goal that Kelly had when he was a little kid. In fact, he didn't decide on a career in law enforcement until prior to his junior year in college.
Initially, Kelly was studying to work in a parks and recreation job. After his adviser explained he needed to find a minor, Kelly picked law enforcement. After a short time taking law enforcement courses, he switched gears.
While a member of the Red Wing Police Department, Kelly began thinking where his career could go. Kelly ran for sheriff in 2010, a learning curve he said prepared him and his family for the 2018 election.
"Obviously, we learn more from losing than we do winning," Kelly said. "So I was grateful for that chance to even be on the ballot."
Even though his first eight months wearing the star have involved shuffling and moving, Kelly said he has enjoyed his time.
“It’s super exciting giving people opportunities," Kelly said. "My goal was to create more opportunities for people. Not necessarily promotions, but make some positions available for people to do some things different.”
Kelly said he wants to help his staff succeed. Being able to bring all of the divisions together, making everyone feel like their work is fulfilling, is Kelly's goal.
One way that Kelly is trying to bring more attention to each division in the department is through the Goodhue County Fair. He said each division will have time in the fair booth to interact with the community.
Showing the community what the department has to offer is a vital part of Kelly's vision. Kelly established a communication captain for the department recently and wants to create a community engagement team as well.
“I want people to know what we have, what you pay for, how we can help all these communities," Kelly said. "It’s not rocket science, really. We just have to take the time to do it.”
With injuries, personnel replacements and trying to learn a new job, Kelly said by the time his four years are finished, he'll likely feel comfortable in the role.
"We’ll have things in place, we’ll have the processes in place. ... My goal is to leave this place better than I found it," Kelly said.
When Kelly talks about the accident on Nov. 26, goosebumps roll up and down his arm. Getting loose from the tree that pinned him, getting to the truck and then getting a ride from his father to the hospital was strictly the result of adrenaline, Kelly said. If the adrenaline had worn off or never come, and he had been forced to sti next to the downed tree, Kelly doesn't know if he would make it up the hill. With a punctured lung, Kelly doesn't know if he would've been able to catch his breath properly either.
Kelly said he's thankful to be healing. And he will likely bring a friend with him next time he decides to cut a tree down.