When the old Nissan plowed into Gemily West and Harison Long-Randall in a Carmichael crosswalk Monday night, witnesses say it was flying down the two-lane road at more than 80 mph.
Long-Randall, a 21-year-old bear of a man who weighs around 300 pounds, stepped in front of his 23-year-old girlfriend to shield her.
He took the brunt of the impact, which severed one of his legs below the knee and sent it flying down Garfield Avenue. She was cut down with a compound fracture in her lower right leg.
Her four beloved dogs – Bindie, Evie, Winry and Zury – were all killed, their bodies scattered into the roadway just south of Engle and a few steps from West's home.
The driver never even slowed down.
That was the horrific sequence of events that witnesses and the California Highway Patrol described Tuesday as authorities launched a search for a 1986 or 1987 Nissan Maxima with light-brown metallic paint.
Pieces of the car littered the ground at Garfield Avenue and Engle Road – an intersection with a four-way stop and a large streetlight overhead – leaving an abundance of evidence for investigators. They said the vehicle sustained damage to its front bumper, lost the driver's side mirror and broke out the clear and amber running lights on the driver's side.
"There were no skid marks at the scene," CHP Officer Todd VanLindt said. "The driver took out the stop sign and then struck Mr. Randall and Ms. West."
VanLindt said investigators don't know why the driver did not stop, that he may have been drunk or fleeing from the commission of a crime.
In past years, Sacramento has ranked among the worst cities in the state for crashes involving fatalities and injuries. Sacramento County currently ranks third in the state for hit-and-run crashes.
Residents of the area where Monday's hit-and-run occurred say Garfield is often used as a "cheat street" by drivers hoping to escape traffic jams on Fair Oaks Boulevard or by drunks reasoning that enforcement may be more lax than on busier streets.
Taylor Givant, a 17-year-old who was coming home with her father at 10 p.m., saw the hit-and-run as her father's SUV approached the intersection heading east on Engle.
"No lights on the car," she said. "No back lights, no brake lights, no front lights.
"How do you just not stop? You're going 80 mph and you hit two people and four dogs and you don't stop? I don't understand."
West, who graduated from El Camino Fundamental High School in 2007, had gone out with her boyfriend Monday night to exercise her dogs on the grass at Garfield Elementary, about 100 yards from her home.
She and Long-Randall, who was visiting from Grass Valley, spent time playing fetch with her four Australian cattle dogs, which friends say were like children to the young costume designer.
Then, with reflective leashes and flashing lights on the dog collars, the couple started the short walk back to her house.
Inside the home, her older sister, Lilleah West, was listening to the sounds of the fireworks coming from the State Fair at Cal Expo when she heard an odd, loud noise.
"I even thought to myself, 'That didn't sound good, I'd better go check it out,' " Lilleah West said Tuesday. "I came out and I heard my sister screaming and screaming.
"At first she screamed for the dogs, because she hadn't seen what happened to Harry. Then she saw what had happened to him, and she screamed for him."
Lilleah West said she looked around and saw Long-Randall's leg near a utility pole on the side of the street.
"It had no shoe or sock on it," she said. "It looked like a Halloween prop."
Within moments, residents from the neighborhood streamed out of their homes to help, a sharp contrast to the callousness of whoever was driving the Nissan.
Mario Ajello, a 67-year-old contractor whose home sits on the southwest corner of the intersection, ran out with his friend Joe Stroup, 49.
"One lady who had some (medical) training said, 'We've got to make a tourniquet,' so I gave her my belt to make a tourniquet on his leg," Ajello said. "And then I looked down the street and there were two of the dogs that looked like little piles of fur. It knocked them 50 to 60 feet farther."
Ajello said the position of the couple made it look as though Long-Randall tried to protect West from the impact.
"She looked like she had been knocked back by his body," Ajello said. "He, on the other hand, looked like a bag of rags."
Stroup said paramedics were on the scene rapidly and, as they began moving West onto a stretcher, he could hear her cries.
"What tears me up is she started screaming, 'Why?' " he said. "She just kept saying it over and over."
By then Lilleah West had a difficult choice to make. Her sister already knew Harison had been badly hurt, but she didn't know what had happened to the dogs.
"I had to tell her," Lilleah West said. "I know she's the kind who wants to know the truth, or she'll worry and fret, so I told her the truth last night when they were getting her on the stretcher."
Her next task was nearly as grim. Rather than let the county's animal control service pick up the dogs' bodies, she said she, loaded them into a wagon and placed them in a kiddie pool on ice in the backyard until Gemily comes home.
"My sister's going to want to see the dogs," she said, recalling how well-behaved the animals were and how they walked on each side of her, two by two. "She's going to want to pet their heads one last time."
West's family hopes she can come home from Mercy San Juan Medical Center in a few days. Long-Randall's recovery is expected to take considerably longer.
The two young people have been friends for several years, meeting through a mutual friend who is a dog breeder, and Lilleah West said it became evident last fall that Long-Randall was falling for her sister.
Finally, for Christmas, Gemily West told him his present was that they could start dating.
On Tuesday, as the couple were recovering in the hospital and Long-Randall was being hailed as a hero, Lilleah West recalled a promise he had made to her sister.
"He said that he would do anything for her," Lilleah West said. "I think he did."
HOW TO HELP
The CHP is asking anyone with information on Monday's hit-and-run crash to call its offices at (916) 338-6710 during business hours or (916) 861-1300 after hours.