Michelle Brown Bejarano of Exeter was out for an evening ride with her horse, Dixon, on Friday, June 3, when tragedy struck. The horse and rider were on Highway 245 near Avenue 322, about three miles south of Woodlake, and crossing the Kaweah River bridge when they were struck from behind by a 2002 Mazda Protégé.
Michelle’s last memory before being hit was glancing back and seeing a car careening toward them. Dixon took the brunt of the impact and was killed instantly.
Michelle was thrown about 150 feet before landing on the pavement and briefly blacking out. After the stunned rider regained consciousness she scrambled for her cell phone and dialed 911.
She also took down the license plate number of the Mazda and told the driver, who she said appeared to be intoxicated, to not leave the scene.
The first motorists to arrive on the scene were former firefighter Scotty Shewman and his wife, Lara, riding on a motorcycle. Other passersby also began gathering while the driver of the Mazda, after repeated attempts, started his vehicle and drove off.
The Shewmans pursued the hit-and-run driver on their motorcycle, heading north toward Woodlake. They reported that the suspect stopped the car, threatened them, then ran away.
According to the CHP investigating officer, the car is registered to a Madera owner who lent the Mazda to a family friend four weeks ago.
Dixon, the horse killed in the accident, was a much-anticipated guest at Camp Zap, a camp for disadvantaged youth in Lemon Cove. Dixon provided many of these third through fifth-grade campers with their first horseback ride. He was a gentle horse who loved children, Michelle said.
The hit-and-run driver remains at large. According to the CHP accident report, the suspect was described as a stocky Hispanic male, about 5 feet, 10 inches tall, who was covered in blood, presumably Dixon’s, when he fled the scene.
Bejarano is being treated for her injuries. She suffered a concussion, a broken wrist and broken ankle, and untold emotional distress over the loss of her beloved Dixon.
Anyone with information in this case should contact the Visalia CHP, (559) 734-6767.