A Victim of Hit-Run, Even While in His Grave

By E.J. Montini
The Arizona Republic [Phoenix AZ]
February 8, 2004

It was as if they removed Jim L. Reed from his grave, dragged him back to Phoenix and ran over him all over again.

Last week, the lawyers defending Bishop Thomas J. O'Brien against charges that he left the scene of a fatal accident spent a day bad-mouthing the memory of a dead man.

They brought out one witness who testified that on the night Reed was struck and killed by O'Brien's car as he crossed Glendale Avenue, a drunken Reed had stumbled into her apartment and asked her for bus fare.

They brought out another witness who testified that although Reed was 6 feet, 2 inches tall and weighed 250 pounds, his blood alcohol level indicated that he probably would have been too intoxicated to walk a straight line on the night he was killed.

These would be important pieces of evidence if O'Brien had been charged with a crime for striking Reed. But he's not. If a pedestrian crosses against a light or outside of a crosswalk and is hit by a car, the driver won't face charges unless he's drunk or was extremely reckless. O'Brien was never accused of such things. However, an otherwise innocent driver commits a crime when he strikes a person and leaves the scene. That's what O'Brien is charged with.

He told police that he thought he might have hit an animal or that someone might have thrown a rock at his car. Jim Reed was 100 pounds heavier than one of those big heavy bags that boxers work out on. He was closer in size to a bear than to a dog. He was closer in weight to a boulder than to a stone.

Still, perhaps what O'Brien says is true. Perhaps he believed that he had struck a small animal or that his car had been struck by a rock.

Either way, Jim Reed's blood alcohol level should mean nothing. But it does. That is why O'Brien's lawyers staged a hit-and-run on a dead man. Sometimes, defense attorneys will try to make a victim seem less human so that their client seems less like a criminal. But Jim L. Reed was human.

In the Catholic grade school where I was educated, the nuns taught us that speaking ill of the dead was an almost unforgivable sin. I'd guess that the same lessons were taught in the parochial schools overseen by O'Brien.

Jim L. Reed was 43 years old. He had two sons. He worked as a carpenter. He was born in Tuba City and moved to Phoenix 16 years ago. His family has attended the bishop's trial, but they are uncomfortable with the media. They don't talk much, which has caused people like me to spend less time talking about Reed or writing about him. But it doesn't mean that he was any less loved. It doesn't mean he is any less worthy of sympathy. And the fact that he'd been drinking doesn't mean that he deserved to die.

Reed was known for wearing a big black cowboy hat. The night of the accident he was visiting his brother. His sister-in-law was running errands when Reed left. She came upon the accident scene as she returned.

"When I was driving, I saw policemen and people," she told a reporter a few days after Reed's death. "And then I just drove right by it, thinking it was someone else. But when I came by the house and parked, I looked that way and noticed the hat in the street. It was his favorite hat. That's when I knew."

Those who knew him said that Reed was a good worker. They said that he was kind to the unfortunate. This was not the story of Jim Reed that was told in court last week. It was not the story that O'Brien's lawyers believed would best serve their client, and apparently their client went along with them. He certainly didn't try to stop them.

If O'Brien testifies next week he will tell jurors that he didn't see Jim Reed cross his path that night and that he believed his car might have struck an animal or perhaps that someone had thrown a rock at him. Maybe it's true. Maybe the jury will believe him.

But all the rocks last week were being thrown at Jim Reed. A victim. A man who had a family. A man who was loved. And now that the bishop and his lawyers know for a fact that the tragic collision on June 14 involved a living, breathing human being, why treat Jim Reed in court as if he were an animal or a worthless hunk of stone?

Reach Montini at or (602) 444-8978


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