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MUST READ: 'You hit a what?' SUV nearly slams into lost elephant

OKLAHOMA CITY -- It's not unusual to see a deer or a cow crossing Oklahoma's rural highways. But an elephant?

A couple driving home from church nearly slammed into a giant pachyderm that had escaped from a nearby circus late Wednesday.

''Didn't have time to hit the brakes. The elephant blended in with the road,'' driver Bill Carpenter said Thursday. ''At the very last second I said 'elephant!'''

Carpenter, 68, said he swerved his SUV at the last second and ended up sideswiping the 29-year-old female elephant on U.S. 81 in Enid, about 80 miles north of Oklahoma City.

''So help me Hanna, had I hit that elephant, not swerved, it would have knocked it off its legs, and it would have landed right on top of us,'' he said. ''We'd have been history.''

The couple, who own a wheat farm, weren't injured. But the 8-foot, 4,500-pound elephant was being examined Thursday for a broken tusk and a leg wound. A local veterinarian said it appeared to have escaped major injury.

''I thought 'this can't be happening.' Out here you could hit a deer or a cow, but this can't be happening. The good Lord was with us,'' Carpenter said. The elephant's tusk punched through the side of the SUV, tearing up sheet metal.

After sideswiping the elephant, his wife, Deena, flagged some people down and used their cell phone to call police.

''The dispatcher didn't believe her: 'You hit a what?''' he said. ''I told my wife, I don't know whether to cry or laugh.''

Enid veterinarian Dr. Dwight Olson said the elephant was hiding in some bushes just off the highway when he arrived shortly after the accident. Handlers from the circus were able to calm it down, and Olson cleaned the leg wound and gave it some pain killer.

The elephant was taken Thursday to the veterinary school at Oklahoma State University for a follow-up exam.

''I don't believe there's a broken bone, but I don't have an X-ray room big enough to examine it,'' Olson said.