'He came so fast, and hit us so fast, I'm amazed I remember any of it'

07/26/2012 12:00 AM

06/13/2014 7:23 PM

She didn't exactly hear the car coming, but sensed it bearing down on them that night.

Suddenly, it appeared, blazing down Garfield Avenue faster than a car on a freeway, leaving no escape.

"He came so fast, and hit us so fast, I'm amazed I remember any of it," Gemily West said as she recalled the instant last week that left her four dogs dead, her boyfriend's leg severed near the knee and one of her leg bones snapped in two.

"He looked like he was going to totally make that right turn there, and then he suddenly hit the stop sign and went right for us. We saw him hit it, and we realized he wasn't slowing down, and we tried our hardest to get our feet moving.

"But we couldn't move out of the way fast enough."

West, 23, was released Sunday after spending a week at Mercy San Juan Medical Center in Carmichael. She is recovering from a bed the hospital sent over to her family's Carmichael home, and her discolored right leg looks like a science experiment, with 42 metal staples holding it together.

Her boyfriend, Harison Long-Randall, 21, lost a leg at the scene; his pelvis was torn almost apart. He remains hospitalized and unconscious, undergoing what his family says will be a long and painful recovery.

The couple's ordeal has generated a wave of sympathy nationwide, both for them and West's beloved Australian cattle dogs – Bindie, Evie, Winry and Zury.

West is so proud of the dogs, of how well-behaved and highly trained they were. Winry, who family members said would fetch the TV remote and helped raise kittens, was her favorite. She became emotional talking about them Tuesday afternoon.

The dogs' bodies are being held at an area veterinary clinic while she decides when to move forward.

"I think I'm going to cremate them," she said. "Each one will get a kiss from me to them on the forehead."

The deaths of the dogs, which were walking with the couple in a well-lighted residential crosswalk after a game of fetch at a nearby school, undoubtedly helped spark the outpouring from strangers.

Thousands of dollars in donations have flooded in from across the nation. Cards and letters have filled the families' mailboxes, some with photos of the well-wishers' own dogs. On Tuesday afternoon, a package arrived from the "Dog Whisperer" television show offering support.

"The support and everything, it still makes me cry," West said. "It's amazing."

But the toll has been intense. The grueling day and night hospital vigils. The meetings with law enforcement. Knowing they may need to take time off from work for months or longer to attend court sessions for the suspect, 31-year-old Paul William Walden.

That reality began to set in Wednesday as they gathered in the hallway of the Sacramento County jail, preparing for a scheduled 8:30 a.m. court hearing for Walden.

After an hour in the hallway, the courtroom finally opened, and the half dozen or so family members poured in to see what would happen in Walden's second court appearance since his arrest last Thursday.

It was over in seconds – before some of them had even taken a seat – continued until Aug. 29.

"It totally drains you," Long-Randall's father, Chris Randall, said after court. "Your life stops in a tragedy like this. We're just glad to have him behind bars where he can't hurt anybody else."

Walden, who has been arrested four times in the last decade on suspicion of driving under the influence, has yet to enter a plea in the hit-and-run case. He remains in the Sacramento County jail on a no-bail hold.

The families say they consider Walden proof that something needs to be done to increase penalties for driving under the influence.

Walden was driving on a suspended license the night he allegedly hit the couple, and on the night he was arrested three days later. The California Highway Patrol says he was under the influence of drugs at the time he was pulled over.

His driving record shows his license was suspended in 2003 and revoked in 2005. It was suspended again in May 2011, and yet again on July 13, the Friday before the hit-and-run.

"What have we got to do to get people off the street, to keep them from hurting people?" Chris Randall asked Wednesday. "You know, I've stopped my life.

"I want to do something about this. I'm tired, the community's tired."

West's brother, Trevor, added that he never understood how badly such incidents could shake a family until he was the one standing before a bank of news cameras talking about someone like Walden.

"He's hurt everybody in both families," he said.

For now, Gemily West says she wants to focus on helping her boyfriend with his recovery. Someday she will have dogs again, she says. And she draws some consolation from how happy her pets were that night.

"I do believe they died happy," she said. "Running around, playing fetch, it was their favorite thing."

HOW TO HELP

If you'd like to donate to the couple, you can make out checks to the Harison Long-Randall/Gemily West Fund and mail them to Pam Dinsmore, community affairs director, The Sacramento Bee, 2100 Q St., Sacramento, CA 95816.

The family also has set up a PayPal account online. The email address to use through that service is longrandallwestfund@gmail.com.

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