At around 12:40 a.m. Saturday, Bolt was driving back to her home in Monroe when someone in a Kia lost control near the Delk Road exit, officials said. That vehicle eventually came to rest in the far right lane, and Bolt and another pedestrian stopped on the shoulder of the interstate and attempted to render aid to the driver.
About seven hours later, Smith received a call from her sister, Sue Bullough Burningham. It was uncommon for Burningham to call her in tears, so Smith immediately knew something was seriously wrong.
Then she heard the words: “Sarah was killed in a car accident.”
While Bolt and the other pedestrian were helping the driver of the Kia, police said a person driving a Dodge Challenger lost control and struck them both. They were taken to Grady Memorial Hospital with serious injuries, but only one of them survived.
Police did not say if the driver of the Dodge would face charges as the investigation remains open.
“That didn’t surprise me at all, that she had stopped to help somebody, not one bit. That just sounds like her,” Burningham said. “She wasn’t a person to hesitate. And I can just see: she saw somebody get hurt, she wouldn’t have hesitated, she would have just pulled over and helped them.”
The mother of five, who raised a daughter and four sons, was a go-getter. She built a Harry Potter-themed library at her home, was regarded as “little miss DIY,” loved to reimagine and re-create famous paintings, began writing a nonfiction novel and had dreams of eventually going to law school once her children got older. Bolt’s family said she excelled at everything she tried.
Cheri Hurst Bullough said her stepdaughter exuded a welcoming energy. It was not uncommon for Bolt to quickly make friends with strangers or spend hours on the phone with family members. Even when she was going through a tough time, Bullough said Bolt could put her feelings aside.
“She was kind to everybody. And even when she would get upset, which honestly wasn’t that often, she would be able to not let that dictate her actions,” Bullough said.
In many ways, Bolt was like her father, Michael Larry Bullough, who died in 2020. They both went out of their way to connect with family, offered to help others and lit up any room with their personalities. At Michael Bullough’s funeral, Burningham said Bolt held the family together with her smile and compassion. She put her sorrow aside and comforted those impacted more by the loss, Burningham noted.
Burningham said she can only hope Bolt’s funeral, for which the family is collecting funds, will cultivate the same healing energy.
“It’s just absurd how comforting funerals are and how they bring families together, and I’m hoping that this one does the same thing,” she said.
A certain comfort comes from how Bolt spent her final moments helping someone in need, the family said. Regardless, accepting that her heartwarming laugh and uplifting hugs will only be possible in memories makes the grief feel endless.
The loss feels incredibly profound for Smith, who remembers when she first met Bolt. Smith, who was 12 at the time, said she recalls counting the child’s tiny toes and fingers and looking down at her chubby face in complete awe. Even at a young age, Bolt was described as hilarious and someone who loved everyone she met.
Just prior to starting kindergarten, Bolt’s parents divorced and she moved from Salt Lake City to metro Atlanta with her mother. Smith was forced to temporarily say goodbye.
“I just remember being devastated and not knowing how I was going to even go on,” Smith said.
But those who knew her will have to go on without her compassionate nature.
Bolt had a way of making everyone feel special, as if she truly understood and cared about what others were going through. Her family said they are proud of her for having the instincts to stop on the interstate and help another driver.
They wouldn’t have expected her to respond in any other way.
“I think a lot of times she was in that place where she needed help, and I think that she just couldn’t pass by anybody that she thought needed help,” Bullough said, adding that “if she saw an animal on the side of the road, she’d stop and see if she could help find the owner. ... She just always wanted to help.”