Family of 70-year-old man killed by hit-and-run driver in northeast Fresno ‘heartbroken’

Family of 70-year-old man killed by hit-and-run driver in northeast Fresno 'heartbroken'

Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer held what he called an “unfortunate” news conference Friday afternoon to discuss Thursday’s deadly hit-and-run in northeast Fresno.

A 70-year-old man was walking in a crosswalk on Copper River Drive and Friant Road around 6:30 p.m. when a driver struck him, killing him. Moments later, the Fresno Police Department received a 911 call regarding a man lying in the roadway.

The victim, Ram Bhatia was pronounced deceased at the scene, Dyer says.

Just a short time later, Dyer says the collision reconstruction team found a piece of weather stripping from a BMW, and determined it was the vehicle involved in the deadly hit-and-run.

That’s when the department received another 911 call about a stolen BMW from a nearby Applebee’s restaurant. The caller, now suspect, Matthew Hiram Chenot, 25, claimed his car was stolen from the parking lot.

Dyer says dispatchers detected the call came from the area of Auberry and Millerton roads. Detectives made their way up around 9:30 p.m. and spotted a man and woman walking in the roadway.

After the man claimed he was not Chenot, detectives determined he in fact was, and obtained footage from the Applebee’s of he and the woman sitting in a booth, drinking alcohol, Dyer says. Prior to that, he says the two were at Pine Flat Lake drinking alcohol.

Dyer says after leaving Applebee’s, Chenot was driving northbound on Friant Road around 60 mph, and struck what he called an “object in the crosswalk” at Copper River Drive.

“He did not pull over and continued north bound on Friant as they were heading up toward Table Mountain,” Dyer explains.

At about 15 miles, the BMW became disabled and that’s when Dyer said the two had a conversation that the object they hit may have been a person.

“It was at that point in time he decided to report the car stolen to the police department,” he says.

When Chenot was interviewed, he told detectives he knew he struck something, and it could have been a person. However, the woman with him she said they both had a conversation and acknowledged they ran over a person and did not stop.

The car was found with extensive damage to the left front of the car, as well as the windshield. “It’s difficult to even understand how he was able to drive that vehicle beyond the collision scene,” Dyer says.

Chenot was taken into custody Friday night on suspicion of felony DUI, felony hit-and-run and gross vehicular manslaughter. He has been booked into Fresno County Jail.

Dyer says the family of the victim, Bhatia, is heartbroken, adding, “They are a very close knit family.”

An emotional email from Bhatia’s son was read by Dyer:

These are the pictures from his last moments. He just turned 70 last month. Celebrated his forty-fifth wedding anniversary this month. My father was an avid yoga fan and believed in living a healthy lifestyle. He was coming back from his regular evening walk which he goes on this trail a lot. I can’t believe the same healthy lifestyle made him at-risk of losing his life. I’m still in denial, and I still feel he will be back from his walk. But wherever he is, I’m sure he’s close to almighty God. He has been very religious and meditates everyday. May his soul rest in peace.

Dyer ends reading the email saying, “This is an unfortunate tragedy. This is a senseless, needless death that occurred in our city as a result of one human being’s decision to get behind the wheel of a car and consume alcohol…”

Chenot’s bail is set at $107,000.

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