Mitchell Martin is confused and his face shows it, alternately flushed red with anger, then pale with sorrow, as he recalls the death of Buck Hi Brow Cat, the 3-year-old quarter horse he had raised from a colt.
Someone — he says he knows who — failed to negotiate a hard turn on Crowe Springs Road Wednesday around midnight, crashed through a fence and hit his prize show horse throwing the 1,200-pound animal 75 feet in the air.
"Here's where it happened," Martin said, looking at the wire fence now held together by small, blue ropes. "He had to have been laying down asleep because he would have heard the commotion and bolted if he had been standing up."
Martin has trained quarter horses most of his life, including four American Quarter Horse Association world champions.
"'Buck' was going to be my fifth," he said. "You could just tell he had it in him."
He stared at the ground and kicked a stone.
"He was just showcased last month," he said softly.
The neighbors living nearest the scene say they never heard a thing.
No squealing tires; no crash: nothing.
"They were taking their kids to school Thursday morning," Martin said, "and they saw him laying on the grass and they called us to say they thought something was wrong with one of our horses."
Martin arrived to see his beloved Buck lying lifeless, surrounded by pieces of a car's plastic grill that had shattered in the collision. He quickly picked up two items that stood out from the rest — a large piece of plastic with a Chrysler logo and a Confederate tag — and put them aside as evidence. He also made a video of the scene and posted it along with a brief message asking anyone to come forward if they had any information.
"That video went viral," he said. "By Saturday, I knew who had done it."
By the next day, someone called and told Martin where he could find the car. When he arrived, however, it wasn't there.
"I called the informant back and told him there was no white Chrysler automobile," Martin said. "The guy said, 'look closer.' I did and that's when I saw the car had been spray painted black."
Martin said he called the Bartow County Sheriff's Office.
"They came and looked at it and at one point, even talked to the guy inside," he said. "I was sure they were going to arrest him, but they said that they didn't have enough evidence. I felt like I had given them everything they need, but after I cooled down, I realized they were probably right, but I have never been so frustrated in my life."
Martin said the only thing giving him peace is knowing that Buck never suffered. He was killed on impact.
Although Martin knows there will never be another Buck, he already has his eyes set on a little, brown filly with a star on her nose peeking out from a hay bale.
"She looks promising, don't she?"
Bartow County authorities are asking for the public's help in finding the driver of the fatal hit and run. Anyone with information is asked to call the Sheriff's Office at 770- 382-5050.