By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
IF MARIA TORREGROSSA knows anything, she says, she knows this: That man saw me standing right in front of him, and he came at me with his car like I was a piece of nothing. I jumped out of the way, but he got me good."
Torregrossa narrowly escaped death in Paradise Valley on the night of March 15, 1988Ïher 26th birthday.
The driver had been fleeing when he'd happened upon Torregrossa. Only seconds before, he had careened into and injured bicyclist John Faust. The man in the Oldsmobile then rammed into Torregrossa's Mitsubishi while attempting to negotiate a hasty U-turn. Hoping to read the Olds' license plate, Torregrossa gave chase. A few blocks laterÏnear the intersection of Tatum and McDonaldÏshe caught up to it.
Torregrossa and other passersby who had seen what was happening boxed in the Olds with their vehicles. She stepped out of her car and approached the man. His only route of escape lay where she was standing.
Though Torregrossa tried to leap out of harm's way, the Olds clipped her hard with its side-view mirror. Her abdomen and back were injured, though she didn't yet know how badly. The man sped into the night.
Torregrossa recalled something else about the moment: The driver of the Olds had grinned at her just before he'd nailed her.
In due time, she also learned the name of the man who had nearly killed her.
He was a 46-year-old businessman named George Leckie. In a few months, Leckie would join J. Fife Symington's gubernatorial campaign and later would become its finance chairman.
But in March 1988, Leckie's name didn't ring a bell with Torregrossa. Leckie wouldn't become widely known in Arizona until his friend Symington was elected governor in 1991 and selected him as a top aide.
Since Symington's victory, Leckie has been criticized for overspending budgets, charging vacations to taxpayers and granting hefty pay hikes to the governor's top aides. Recently, he has defended his and the governor's determination to slash state programs and lay off workers. Symington and Leckie have stressed that people-and governments-have to take responsibility, no matter how much it hurts.
Last week, according to a news account, Leckie told an audience of business people, Any time you're an instrument of change, you're going to run into resistance."
On March 15, 1988, George Leckie ran into resistance on the roads of Paradise Valley. His reaction, according to eyewitnesses, was to barrel right through. He injured two people in the process. And he ran away.
Leckie's name meant nothing to Maria Torregrossa. But the manner in which Paradise Valley authorities treated the case stunned her.
Torregrossa wanted Leckie to do prison time. But she then caught on, painfully, to how justice sometimes operates in Paradise Valley, especially when it comes to prominent residents of the affluent Phoenix suburb.
The way they protected this guy," Torregrossa tells New Times, I thought, `He must be in the Mafia.'"
Leckie may not be in that Mafia. But he is a consigliere to Governor Fife Symington, and ranks as one of the most powerful individuals in Arizona government. His decisions as the head of the state's cost-cutting Project SLIM are affecting every Arizonan. He's the same George Leckie under fire recently for spending funds earmarked for state business on a vacation in Hawaii with his girlfriend.
Leckie has not returned telephone calls seeking comment for this story. Neither has Symington's office. Perhaps that night in Paradise Valley is still on Leckie's mind, however. In last Sunday's Phoenix Gazette, Leckie explained one of the Symington administration's financial gaffes to a political columnist this way:
We have a tendency to put our foot on the accelerator before we hit the brakes."
MARIA TORREGROSSA'S first taste of how some members of the Paradise Valley Police Department conduct criminal investigations came two days after her brush with death.
Detectives told Torregrossa they couldn't find the suspect because the Olds' license plate had been registered to a post-office box number.
Bedridden after a hospital stay for internal bleeding and an injured back, Torregrossa performed a little detective work of her own. It took her a few minutes to do what the cops apparently couldn't: She found Leckie's business address and called detectives, who finally interviewed him-¯three days after the hit-and-runs.
According to police reports, Leckie said he couldn't recall having hit anyone with his car that night. But he told detectives he had drunk four or five" glasses of wine within a few hours of the incidents. Leckie was never charged with drunken driving. Police agencies routinely submit even shaky cases to the Maricopa County Attorney's Office for felony consideration. The case against George Leckie for the crimes of endangerment, aggravated assault or even attempted murder seemed plausible. But Paradise Valley never submitted the case, says Bill FitzGerald, spokesman for the County Attorney's Office.
If they had, say criminal-justice experts contacted by New Times, a felony indictment against Leckie would have been likely-possibly on charges of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. A prison term may have followed.
Paradise Valley officials allowed Leckie to plead guilty to a charge of failing to render aid" to Maria Torregrossa-a crime less serious under Arizona law than littering or loitering. Town Attorney Charles Ollinger displayed little memory of the incident during an interview with New Times. Leckie got into a hit-and-run up here? It doesn't ring a bell," Ollinger said when first told about the case. Whatever went on here was not unusual enough to easily jog my memory on it." After hearing details of the case, Ollinger said, I remember bits and pieces of it."