SACRAMENTO, CA – Sanjay Patel may never again have full use of his right leg, but he smiles as he speaks from his hospital bed because he still can’t believe he survived being dragged a quarter mile under an SUV.
“I strongly believe in my God, and I can say that he saved me,” said Patel, 26, a Sacramento State University graduate student from India.
Patel was riding his bicycle home to his apartment at 7:20 p.m. Jan. 31 when he was hit by a suspected drunken driver who veered into the bike lane on Folsom Boulevard near La Riviera Drive.
Patel said he was briefly aware of headlights crossing onto the shoulder of the road but he had no time to react. “It was so sudden, I couldn’t look behind.”
Patel said he felt the impact of the Ford Explorer and immediately became lodged between the bumper and the asphalt. “I don’t remember what position I was in, but I could just remember some of the parts of my body were dragging on the road. I could feel that,” he said.
The driver of the SUV, Amira Fakira, 23, continued another quarter mile before turning onto Norcade Circle. Patel was dislodged when Fakira made a U-turn back out onto Folsom Boulevard.
As he lay in the street, Patel was awake and alert and saw people coming quickly to help him. He remembers one man in particular, Patrick Sims, who urged Patel not to look at his right leg because the kneecap was gone. “There was a lot of pain, but I made myself calm and waited for the ambulance,” Patel said.
Patel was also aware of a young woman, Lupe Zavala, who held his head and tried to comfort him while they waited together for the paramedics. “Those are angels for me,” he said.
At the time, Patel didn’t know Zavala and her husband, Johnathon Hobson, had witnessed the crash and that Hobson had dropped off his wife so that he could chase Fakira.
Hobson caught up to Fakira a mile away when she was forced to stop for a red light at Watt Avenue. He reached through an open window and snatched the keys from the ignition.
From his hospital room at the UC Davis Medical Center, Patel watched the news conference two days after the crash when the California Highway Patrol honored Hobson and Zavala for their heroic efforts. Patel said he was deeply touched when Hobson choked up as he shared the horror of watching the bicyclist being swept under the SUV. Hobson and Zavala have since visited Patel in the hospital and the three have become friends.
Patel has also seen the video of Fakira being given a field sobriety test near the spot where he was dislodged from underneath her vehicle. During the arrest, Fakira hurled obscenities at News10 photographer Brandon Atchison.
When he speaks of Fakira, however, Patel expresses disbelief more than anger. “She didn’t know what she did. Even after everything, she was cursing your cameraman. I saw that. So what can I say about her? She was out of her mind.”
Fakira faces multiple felony charges and returns to court Monday for continued proceedings.
Patel has undergone multiple surgeries on his leg, spine and chest. His arms are still badly scarred and his scalp was torn, but aside from a small patch of scraped skin just below the hairline, his face was nearly unscathed.
Friday will be a big day for Patel when his doctors will ask him to stand on his right leg for the first time. No one can say how much functionality the leg will ever achieve, and Patel is nervous about the future. “Will I be able to walk, run, dance? I don’t know,” he said.
Patel was in his final semester of a master’s program in electrical and electronic engineering at Sac State, which must now wait. A planned internship at an Intel plant in Phoenix this summer has also been jeopardized.
Patel now hopes to earn his degree next fall and return to his wife in India. Patel’s brother Vasand, 27, arrived from India Wednesday to help him after he leaves the hospital, which could be next week.
Patel said he has enjoyed his two years in Sacramento. Despite his near-death experience at the hands of one of its residents, he insisted he would leave with a positive impression because of what happened in the moments following the crash. “I can say that humanity is still here,” he said with a smile.
by George Warren, GWarren@news10.net
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