ALTO, N.M. (KRQE) – The fight to protect a herd of wild horses near Ruidoso is flaring up again after a driver hit and killed one of the horses on the highway. The sheriff there called the death ‘unavoidable,’ but advocates for the wild horses disagree.

Flowers mark the spot where a wild horse, named ‘Star’ by advocates, was killed Tuesday afternoon on Highway 48 near Enchanted Forest Loop in Alto.

“It was shocking. I really had to keep it together,” said Debi Wilcox, a wildlife supporter.

Lincoln County Sheriff Robert Shepperd says the horse darted out in front of a driver. The driver was uninjured. The sheriff said speeding or inattention don’t appear to be a factor.

“A lot of these are unavoidable accidents when an animal jumps out in front of you at the last minute. Even if you are paying attention,” said Shepperd.

However, Wilcox disputes that these accidents are unavoidable. She believes more could be done on this designated safety corridor. “That means there’s funding for this area, so I think that those kind of statements are insensitive and ignorant,” she said.

The 2-year-old stallion served as their poster child during their intense legal battle with the New Mexico Livestock Board. A judge decided the livestock board didn’t have jurisdiction over them and the herd of 15 was released back into Lincoln County last October.

Since then, the New Mexico Department of Transportation has put up eight additional wildlife crossing signs and digital speed reader signs at each end of the corridor.

The sheriff says with that—and 32 signs already in place—adding anything else could be distracting.

“Everybody just needs to just pay attention,” said Shepperd. “Those horses up here are just like the deer and the elk. This is a mountainous area. We do have a lot of accidents with deer and elk.”

Wilcox says while she’s thankful for the NMDOT’s efforts, she feels they’ve failed the horses.

She’s calling on them for a stop sign or a designated wild horse crossing area requiring drivers to yield where Star was hit, a place the horses typically cross.