Bishop charged in fatal hit-and-run - KLTV.com - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News

6-17-03

Bishop charged in fatal hit-and-run

PHOENIX, Arizona (CNN) -- Prosecutors on Tuesday charged Thomas O'Brien, the Roman Catholic bishop of Phoenix, with leaving the scene of a fatal accident.

Maricopa County Attorney Rick Romley said Bishop Thomas O'Brien would be charged with one count of leaving the scene of an accident.

"Our law here in Arizona, it requires that the driver have known that he injured an individual or a reasonable person should have known that he may have hit an individual," Romley said. "And the facts and circumstances surrounding his conduct after the accident will go directly to that element of the charge."

The charge the bishop faces is a Class-4 felony, which carries a penalty ranging from probation to nearly four years in prison if convicted, according to the spokesman for the Maricopa County attorney's office.

Romley would not comment on a possible sentence, but said the bishop "will not be treated any differently than anybody else."

The charge came after O'Brien, who recently avoided prosecution on charges of covering up sexual abuse by priests in his diocese, was released on bail after he was charged with leaving the scene of a hit-and-run accident that left a pedestrian dead.

O'Brien told an arresting officer that he thought he had hit a dog or a cat or that someone had thrown a rock at his car, according to court documents.

While he was being booked, O'Brien's blood pressure shot up, said Maricopa County attorney's office spokesman Barnett Lotstein. The bishop was taken to St. Joseph's Hospital and released a few hours later. He then was booked into the Madison Street Jail, according to Sgt. Randy Force, a Phoenix police spokesman.

The pedestrian killed, Jim Reed, 43, was jaywalking about 8:30 p.m. Saturday and was hit by two cars, Force said.

He was crossing midblock, and in Arizona that requires a pedestrian to yield the right of way to oncoming traffic, and he did not do that," Force said.

The sergeant said that a witness wrote down the license plate number and description of the first car but that authorities had no information on the second vehicle.

A check showed the first car to be registered to the Phoenix Diocese, Force said. Further investigation led officials to O'Brien's home Monday with a search warrant.

Earlier Monday, investigators seized the bishop's tan Buick, which had a damaged front end and windshield, Force said.

"The bishop has preliminarily told investigators that he's the only person who was driving that car and that he was driving it in that area and at that time Saturday night," Force said.

The diocese did not immediately return calls for comment.

O'Brien, 67, reached a deal June 2 with the Maricopa County attorney's office to avoid a possible indictment on charges that he failed to report sexual misconduct by priests and that he placed or transferred priests or other church personnel to positions in which they could commit further acts of sexual misconduct, a statement from the county attorney's office said.

The deal said the bishop would not be prosecuted if the agreement were implemented in full. It calls for the creation of a position of youth protection advocate to enforce diocese policy on sexual misconduct and a payment by the Phoenix Diocese of $700,000 to the Maricopa County attorney's office for a victim compensation fund, counseling for victims and investigative costs.

Six priests were indicted in the investigation into the sexual abuse allegations in the diocese, according to the Maricopa County attorney's office.

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