Arrest in brutal 1997 assault case eases victim’s mind — a little

Crime Watch

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — It was over 23 years ago that Cari Anderson’s life changed forever.  She doesn’t know how she ended up in a big, isolated, empty pasture in the wee hours of the morning, but she does know she almost died there.

She’d been left for dead behind Golden Empire Transit’s maintenance yard just off Golden State Highway and F Street.

It was Nov. 23, 1997 – four days before Thanksgiving — and Anderson had been having a beer at her favorite bar, the Buckhorn on 34th Street. She had loaned an acquaintance $200 from the $3,000 in cash she was carrying. That’s about the last thing she remembers.

A GET employee found her hours later unconscious and clinging to life. She’d been raped and bashed on the head — and her throat slit. And police had no suspects.

The attack left Anderson with devastating physical disabilities. A month passed before she could speak. She permanently lost her sense of smell and taste. She had to re-learn how to walk, how to bathe herself. Sometimes the emotional scars seemed worse.

Bakersfield was captivated when in 2018, 17’s Olivia LaVoice told Anderson’s story. The community came forward with donations of cash, services and good wishes.

Now the BPD has stepped forward too — with the arrest of a 47-year-old man, captured when a 20th-century DNA sample found a match thanks to 21st-century DNA technology.

Michael Allen Fontes was taken into custody Friday in Fresno with the assistance of the U.S. Marshal’s Office. He is being held on charges including attempted murder, rape and aggravated mayhem and is set to be formally arraigned Tuesday.

“It has really hit me hard this weekend since they told me,” Anderson said. ” I sat down in this chair out there (on the driveway) and just fell down. I was numb. I go, ‘I can’t believe this. I didn’t think this would ever happen.’”

Fontes wasn’t even on investigators’ radar at the time of the assault. They didn’t know his name until DNA technology made the introduction.

“I never gave up,” Anderson said, “and Olivia never gave up either and neither did Abshire. She never gave up. She’s been working on my case for a long time.”

BPD Sgt. Christine Abshire has been on the case for six years — and, though there’s been an arrest now, she says the investigation is not over.

“You want to get peace and justice for the victims and their families,” she said.

Anderson isn’t ready to say she has closure — it’s just an arrest. But it feels like progress and she said she’ll take that for now.

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