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Horse rider dies at Hidden Falls Park

Cheryl Camilleri remembered as ‘one of a kind’
By: Krissi Khokhobashvili, Journal Features Editor
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A woman from Cool died Saturday in Hidden Falls Regional Park, according to the Placer County Sheriff’s Office.

Cheryl L. Camilleri, 48, was found by passersby on a trail at the park on Mears Road, north of Mt. Vernon Road between Auburn and Lincoln, according to Dena Erwin, public information officer for the sheriff’s office. Camilleri was transported to Sutter Auburn Faith Hospital, where she was pronounced dead at 8 p.m.

An autopsy was performed Tuesday and the cause of death was determined to be closed-head trauma.

“Her fall wasn’t witnessed,” Erwin said, “so they’re just assuming she fell or was thrown off of her horse. No one will ever know.”

Camilleri’s daughter, Brooke Smith, of Loomis, said her mother had been out for a trail ride with two friends and they were on their way back to the trailer. Her mother was riding behind her friends, Smith said, and when they looked back they saw her horse running up a different part of the trail.

“When they finally had caught up to her, there were some hikers there, and she was off her horse, and she was unconscious,” Smith said.

Smith said her family has not had the chance to speak with the hikers who found Camilleri yet, but from what she understands they saw her horse running up a hill as Camilleri tried to stop him, and then saw her either bail off or fall from the horse. As the hikers tried to help Camilleri, one of her friends rode back to the trailer to try to get cell reception to call 911, Smith said, and by the time she got back Camilleri was no longer breathing.

Medics arrived and performed CPR, she said, but Camilleri's breathing was off and on at that point. Once she was taken to the hospital, Smith said, it was clear that she would not survive.

“Her brain was just so damaged, there was no room for air,” she said. “There was nothing they could do. They had to take her off the support.”

Smith, who has ridden horses with her mother for 12 years, said her mother was not wearing a helmet at the time of her fall.

“That’s something that her and I never do is wear a helmet,” she said. “Something as simple as that could have possibly saved her life.”

Camilleri was married to Dante Camilleri and had five children – Smith, Zane Lovelace, Britni Lovelace, Monica Camilleri and John Camilleri, ranging in age from 22 to 30. She worked in marketing and was an avid horseback rider.

“She was the kind of person who when she stepped into the room, everyone kind of stopped what they were doing to focus on her,” Smith said. “She had just a warm kind of personality, just very caring – cared about others’ needs more than her own. Her biggest loves in life were God and her family and friends and her horse."

Camilleri had owned Sam. E., a 14-year-old quarterhorse, for about a year and a half, Smith said. His behavior on Saturday was very out of character for him, she added.

“Up until the point that he took off, her friends who were with her said that all of the horses were very quiet,” said Smith, who has ridden that same trail with her mother several times before. “It was a very low-key ride, nothing happened, and then all of a sudden they looked behind them and her horse had taken off, which was very, very out of character for him.”

The family will hold a celebration of Camilleri’s life at 11 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 11, at Adventure Christian Church in Rocklin.

“She was a one-of-a-kind person,” Smith said. “All of her kids and family are going to strive to be the kind of person that she was, and just try to live our lives to make her proud.”

 Reach Krissi Khokhobashvili at krissik@goldcountrymedia.com. Follow her on Twitter, @AuburnJournalAE.