- The Washington Times - Monday, February 9, 2004

PHOENIX (AP) — Catholic Bishop Thomas OBrien testified at his hit-and-run trial yesterday that he heard a loud crash on the night he struck and killed a pedestrian, but never saw anyone in the road.

Because he didnt realize he had struck someone, “it never entered my mind” to stop, Bishop OBrien said, making his first public comments about the accident that ended his 21-year career as head of the Phoenix Diocese.

Bishop OBrien said he winced and put up his right hand upon hearing the noise on the passenger side of his car.

He said he saw his windshield had been damaged but did not see anyone. The accident caused a spider-web crack over much of the passenger side of the windshield.

Had he seen the pedestrian, “I would have stopped because thats the human thing to do,” Bishop OBrien said. “I couldnt imagine not stopping.”

Under questioning from a defense attorney, Bishop OBrien said that he drove on without figuring out what had happened. He said he surveyed the damage after arriving home.

“It might have been a dog,” Bishop OBrien said. “It might have been a rock. I just didnt know.”

He acknowledged he did not see a dog hit his windshield or anyone throwing a rock at him.

Bishop OBrien is accused of leaving the scene of an accident that killed pedestrian Jim Reed on June 14. If convicted, Bishop OBrien, 68, could get nearly four years in prison.

When he learned of the fatal accident, Bishop OBrien said he had a hard time believing that his car had been involved, but an hourlong interview with police began to convince him. Afterward, he said he went into a room with his assistant and cried.

“There were certainly feelings of regret, a deep profound sense of sorrow and sadness that I was possibly involved in the death of this individual,” Bishop OBrien said.

Bishop OBrien conceded he didnt stop to check his car after the accident, although there were several areas where he could have pulled over. He said it was more convenient to wait until he got home a few minutes later.

“You never thought that there might be someone dying in the street?” asked prosecutor Mitch Rand.

“It never entered my mind,” Bishop OBrien said.

Under cross-examination, Bishop OBrien couldnt explain why, when asked by another priest if he was driving where the accident happened, he responded: “I might have been.”

The accident occurred less than two weeks after prosecutors announced Bishop OBrien had signed an immunity deal to spare him from indictment on obstruction charges for protecting child-molesting priests.

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