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Zina Bethune, dancer and actress, killed in possible hit-and-run

February 13, 2012 |  9:35 am
Zine Bethune (Zina Feeley)

Police are investigating the death of Zina Bethune, a renowned ballet dancer and a longtime teacher of disabled children, who was struck by two vehicles after she apparently stopped to help an injured animal on the side of the street.

Zina Feeley, 66, who was known professionally as Zina Bethune, was killed about 12:05 a.m. Sunday after she pulled over her 2006 Lincoln Town Car onto the side of the street in the 6200 block of Forest Lawn Drive.

Police believe she stopped her car to check on a small animal, later identified as a dead possum, that was found on the roadside. She left her engine running and walked into the road, then was struck by a car that was traveling in the opposite direction, said Sgt. Jeffrey Siggers of the Los Angeles Police Department’s Central Traffic Division.

The impact threw her onto the other side of the street, where she was run over by a second vehicle and dragged about 600 feet on the road, Siggers said. Bethune suffered severe head injuries and was pronounced dead at the scene.

Investigators have yet to identify the car that was involved in the second collision. Police interviewed a number of drivers who were stopped at the scene and some reported seeing a white car leaving the site of the collision, Siggers said.

He said police were looking at the possibility of a hit-and-run, but the second driver could also have been among those interviewed at the scene.

The vehicle spotted leaving the scene “leaves open this possibility that the one who actually hit her is out there somewhere,” he said. “We haven’t actually been able to figure out exactly what happened yet.”

Anyone with information is asked to call Dets. Felix Padilla or Josephine Mapson at (213) 972-1825, or the watch commander at (213) 972-1853.

Bethune trained under George Balanchine and began performing with the New York City Ballet at age 14, overcoming diagnoses of scoliosis and lymphedema.

She worked as an actress in television and movies, and beginning in 1982, she taught thousands of disabled children across Southern California to dance to ballet, jazz and rock 'n' roll through her nonprofit dance company.

In 1999, she told a Times reporter she "danced before I could walk."

"I was born to dance, in my heart, but not in my body," she said, referring to her disabilities. She said of the children she teaches: "The essence of dance comes from your spirit -- and these children's spirits are not disabled."

Bethune also was a choreographer, and her acting credits included Martin Scorsese's "Who's That Knocking at My Door."


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Photo: Zina Bethune works with a child in a classroom for the hearing impaired at a Baldwin Hills elementary school in 1999. Credit: Bob Carey / Los Angeles Times