Mystery and Crime Non-Fiction posted January 26, 2017

This work has reached the exceptional level
Could there be a tie to my mother's case?

Vehicular Homicide Revisited - II

by Mary Wakeford

Part 2 of a series - My Mother's Vehicular Homicide Revisited. (Chapter 1 link in Author Notes)

And so it began--diving back into a painful experience, hoping a dose of Karma could be served up with news of a hit and run fatality last weekend that literally took place in the exact location my beautiful Mom was injured by a hit and run driver fifteen years earlier.  Mom sustained injuries that would end her life thirty-four days post-accident. Could there be a connection to last weekend's pedestrian hit and run death?  

My brother sensed so, feeling someone having no remorse in leaving the scene of an accident that cost a woman her life and got away with it, might be the same guy who ran down a pedestrian last weekend, dragging his body nearly five blocks before abandoning the truck with the dead man affixed to the undercarriage.  My brother asked me to contact the homicide detective assigned to the new case with the details and case number of our mother's accident in 2002.  

My brother expressed having a weird 'feeling' as he watched the news report on the horrific accident taking place last weekend. I'm not one to discount intuition.  At least this victim's family would have a chance to face the criminal in a court of law as an arrest has been made--something my family has been denied for nearly fifteen years.

I promised him I would contact the detective he spoke to after scratching his name and number on a Discount Tire receipt I found in the glovebox. Once ending the call, I filled my husband in on the conversation as we drove through a nearby neighborhood. It was his opinion the chance of it being the same guy was far-fetched, before asking if I was really up to reopening an old wound. Realizing the odds are slim to none, I had to keep my word as the pit in my stomach grew.  

Even if it turns out to be the same driver, fifteen years of a trail long quieted would be nearly impossible to prosecute. Statutes have likely run out the clock.
The following morning, I pulled the blue binder dedicated to my mom's accident and death from the safe.  It has two photographs under the clear cover pocket, both were taken of us a short time before her accident. One was snapped on a San Diego beach--I'm wearing shorts and a sleeveless shirt. Mom is clad in a pair of 'clam diggers,' as she called them, being a former Bostonian; a sweat shirt, and her 'Maxine' comic strip sunglasses. She accessorized with one of my dad's caps and his manly watch, worn every day following his death six years prior.  It was her way of keeping him close in heart, and in time.  The second photo was taken at a restaurant a week before her accident.  

The faces in the photos looking back at me revealed no inkling of the pain, suffering and grief that would soon consume my family in the aftermath of the hit and run accident-- Mom's painful attempt at recovery, then unexpected death due to septic shock when the pain medication for her splintered pelvis and broken coccyx compromised the flora and fauna in her intestines.  Organ failure ensued. Within an hour of being moved to the ICU, my mom coded as I held her hand and begged her not to die.  I was forty-six years old and couldn't imagine her being removed from my life in such a devastating way.

I placed the binder on the corner of my bathroom vanity, not able to open the pages of pain right then.  Later that evening, when the house was quiet, I sat down with my binder of unfathomable anguish, and undeniable courage.  The wound has been ripped open.
Police Report Description of Accident:

There it was in black and white official.  I will never forget Mom's expression as she sat at my kitchen table reading the report over and over in disbelief.  The report boldly implicated fault had been assigned to her by the police officer on scene. She was devastated. It was a crushing blow that very well may have started her physical decline.

The only positive thing to come out of the police report finding her at fault--her automobile insurance company would now be on the dole to pay the $15,000 in repairs to the uninsured home she drove through after being struck by the hit and run driver in a stolen Jeep.      

I wouldn't understand the 'gift' of the incorrect police report for over a year.  Once I got a handle on my grief and challenged the report in a letter dated January 31, 2004, 456 days had passed since my mother's death, and 150 days following the death of my nephew, who took his life nine months after losing his beloved grandmother.  He was unable to cope with her violent death while dealing with the ravages of schizophrenia on his brain.  

I retained an attorney to handle the denial of my mother's uninsured motorist claim of $50,000.00 by her insurer.  Having worked in the insurance field for nearly three decades, I challenged the position they chose in the denial, but more about that in a subsequent chapter.  

I made it clear to the detective that my point in challenging the police report was something I needed to do personally for my mom; it had no bearing on the case against the insurer, win or lose. I only wanted the record to reveal the truth.

I was advised he'd review the file, but that it would not be a priority since it was an inactive case without leads.  I assured him again, time was not important. Getting it right was.  A week later, I mailed the letter and supplemental material to his attention:
January 31, 2004

Phoenix Police Department
620 W. Washington
Phoenix, AZ  85003
Attention:  Detective XXXX XXXX, VCU

RE:  Rita Lewis
   Phoenix Police Report Number:    2002-XXXXXXXX
       Fatal Investigation Number:  02-183
       Date of Accident:  9/28/02
       Date of Death:  11/01/02

Detective XXXX:

This letter is in follow-up to our telephone conversation on Monday, January 25th, concerning an accident involving my mother, Rita Lewis.  My mother died on November 1, 2002 from complications as a result of injuries suffered in the hit and run accident referenced above.

As I stated during our phone conversation, I am represented on behalf of my mother's estate, by XXXX XXXXX of XXXXX & XXXX Law Offices, regarding a dispute against XXXXXXXXX Insurance Company, my mother's automobile insurer.  The basis of the dispute concerns their denial of my mother's uninsured motorist claim.  It has nothing to do with the police report.

My intent in contacting you is to probe possible inaccuracies in the police report, based on the enclosed witness statements obtained by my attorney's investigation. These statements were obtained by private investigator, Dan XXXXX, on June 14th and on August 5th, respectively.  You will note the witnesses describe videotaping a birthday party prior to the collision in both interviews. The tape has been provided to my attorney, by the witnesses, and shows my mother's car immediately after colliding with the home she struck following the initial impact with the other vehicle.  

The video is of poor quality, and the visual of my mother's car is fleeting, but it is effective in lending credibility to their witness accounts.

My attorney can be contacted at XXX-XXX-XXXX should you wish to review the tape. The "Z's" were not known by my mother or any member of her family.  

Both witnesses place my mother westbound on Osborn Road, having successfully completed her left turn from the east exit of the church parking lot. They both described the car that hit her driving recklessly through the same parking lot, squealing tires and at a high rate of speed, exiting the driveway marked "ENTRANCE" striking my mother's westbound car as she crossed that driveway. Considering that following the initial impact, my mother's vehicle headed across a lawn and into a home directly north of the parking lot's dedicated entrance challenges the police report description of events.  Had the impact taken place as described in the report, my mother would have been propelled eastward.  Both witness statements support the hit and run vehicle was a dark colored car, and not white as described in the police report.  My mother's car was white.

My mother never wavered in that she never saw the car that struck her and did not know where it could have come from.  In observing the scene immediately following the accident, family members were struck by the lack of skid marks on eastbound Osborn Road that would indicate braking prior to the collision, given the impact to the left side of my mother's car was not to the degree of devastation one would imagine for even a thirty mile per hour impact; the posted speed limit.  

I would venture a guess there were skid marks at the entrance driveway, but obviously communication was scant once the officer arrived, some twenty minutes following the accident, based on Raul's statement.  In an attempt to locate additional potential witnesses to the accident, my family posted a notice in the church bulletin in November. Much to our disappointment, to no avail.  I attribute this to the demographics of the Maryvale community and possible hesitation to get involved with police for fear of deportation.  Given the number of people that came to the immediate aid of my mother following the accident after leaving church, it was disheartening. A language barrier may also have been a factor in confusing facts for the officer on scene.

Another aspect that may have come into play is the fact my mother's statement of recollection indicated exiting the parking lot entrance vs. the exit, which are separated by a small island.  I offer she may have oriented herself to that entrance immediately following the accident and given her disoriented state, somehow thought she exited there.  Her statement was taken three days post-accident, while under the influence of pain medication which also could have added to her confusion with regard to bearing.  My parents were founding members of St. Vincent de Paul (Circa 1959).  My sister continues as a member of the parish and attended mass with our mother every week. She has never witnessed my mother departing the dedicated entrance from her parking ritual which is always the farthest three parking rows.

I have attached a sketch of the parking lot which factors in direction of parking spaces to further substantiate my mother's parking preference and in that, the natural flow for exiting traffic which would lead her only to the east exit.  My mother was a rules-oriented person, and would not have flipped a U-turn out of a parking space to maneuver around other parked cars and leave by way of the entrance.

Detective XXXX, I am interested in discussing your interpretations of the witness accounts based on the additional assessment I have provided.  My mother was victimized initially by the hit and run accident, and if these witness accounts prove out, she was victimized a second time by an inaccurate police report.  Reading that only 8 out of 29 hit and run accidents were solved in Phoenix in 2002, we live with the realization that we'll likely be denied the opportunity to face this person in a courtroom to confront him with the devastation of his reckless actions on that fateful September evening, or the immeasurable grief we have suffered as a family in the aftermath.

Understand we are not looking for anything beyond the truth.  If you determine after a thorough review, the facts I've presented to be factual based on witness reports and compelling physical evidence of the scene, we respectfully request the police report be corrected.

Should you disagree with the accident dynamics I offer as to direction of my mother's vehicle at rest which supports my theory, we will have to live with that.  However, I would like a clear understanding of your position in support of the officer's police report.

Thank you for taking the time to review this information.  I look forward to hearing from you, on your own time.


Mary Wakeford

Attachment:  Witness Statements (2) Raul and Juan XXXXXX
                      Church Bulletin Solicitation of Witnesses
                      Statement Recap Sheet (Handwritten-Mary)
                      Parking Lot Diagram-St. Vincent de Paul

I mailed the packet and waited for a response. During my phone conversation prior to mailing my findings, the detective advised he was working active cases and they were his first priority.  One involved a high profile case--the Bishop of Phoenix comitting a hit and run which ended in a pedestrian fatality. It was big news in the state.  I assured him the time it took to reevaluate the quality of the report was not important. I was only asking for a fair assessment in search of the truth to clear my mother's name.
My husband was right, opening that binder brought it all back last Tuesday morning.  I picked up the Discount Tire receipt that I had scribbled the name and number of the detective assigned the vehicular homicide that took place last weekend, and dialed the number.  I received a recorded message indicating the detective was unavailable.

I left my name and number, recited the conversation my brother had with another detective in the department over the weekend, and provided my mother's police report file number.  

Today is Thursday.  I've heard nothing back.

To be continued -  







VCU-Vehicular Crime Unit

*Names of parties of contact are represented by XXXXX's for the purpose of privacy, as well as the police report number.

This is non-fiction, but I have been unsuccessful in repeated efforts to correct the Fiction tag.

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