Bishop O'Brien Arrested in Fatal Hit-and-Run

Dennis Wagner and Judd Slivka
The Arizona Republic [Phoenix AZ]
June 16, 2003

After more than four hours of questioning, Phoenix police this afternoon arrested Bishop Thomas O'Brien in the fatal hit-and-run of a pedestrian this weekend.

Shortly after 1:30 p.m., the bishop left in an unmarked police car. Authorities said he was under arrest and faces one count of leaving the scene of a fatal accident, a Class 4 felony. Before authorities could book him, O'Brien experienced high blood pressure and had to be transported from Madison Street Jail to St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center.

"He's being examined right now," said Jose Robles, a spokesman for Catholic church's Diocese of Phoenix. "He was very exhausted."

O'Brien was expected to make his an initial appearance in court later Monday.

The bishop is accused of fleeing the scene after hitting and killing a 43-year-old pedestrian as the man was jaywalking across Glendale Avenue near 19th Avenue, authorities said.

The pedestrian, Jim L. Reed, was pronounced dead at John C. Lincoln Hospital-North Mountain folowing the accident, which occurred about 8:35 p.m.

A Phoenix police spokeswoman said two cars struck Reed, the first identified by witnesses as a four-door, tan Buick Park Avenue. The car was later traced to O'Brien, said the spokeswoman, Sgt. Lauri Williams.

Police are still trying to track down the second vehicle.

During police questioning, O'Brien told investigators that he was the only person with keys to the Buick and that he was driving in the area Saturday night following a church mass in Buckeye.

According to Williams, the bishop said "he was driving the vehicle (Saturday night) and he might have hit something, but we don't know more."

The right front end and windshield of O'Brien's car sustained damage. Police took away the Park Avenue on a flat-bed truck as evidence.

O'Brien recently avoided possible criminal prosecution for obstruction of justice in connection with alleged sexual misconduct by Catholic priests in Arizona during the past two decades. He has been beleagured by calls for his resignation because of that scandal.

Police said O'Brien, who has a perfect driving record in the past 10 years, is cooperating with the fatality investigation, authorities said, and some details of the accident remain sketchy.

On Monday afternoon, Richard Moyer, vicar of the Diocese of Phoenix, issued a statement: "I sincerely regret reports I've received about Bishop O'Brien being involved in a fatal accident. The sympathies of all of us at the Diocese of Phoenix as well as our prayerful support go out to the victim's family. The Diocese will cooperate fully in any police investigation. No further statement will be made while the investigation proceeds."

A police search warrant has been served at O'Brien's house in north-central Phoenix.

Greg Leisse, in-house consul for the diocese, said after meeting with the bishop Monday at his house, "He seems upset, but he seems well." He didn't elaborate.

Leisse also said that the church is "trying to find out what happened and see what, if anything, the diocese needs to do so we can do the right thing."


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