BIG WHEEL

GEORGE LECKIE RAN DOWN TWO PEOPLE WITH HIS CAR AND GOT AWAY WITH IT. IN PARADISE VALLEY, JUSTICE DEPENDS ON WHO YOU ARE.

However, Leckie's near-lethal encounter with Maria Torregrossa and bicyclist John Faust remains a vivid, terrifying memory to those who were there.

People go to prison for stuff like this," says Torregrossa, speaking reluctantly to New Times because she fears reprisals. I'll bet you if you or I had hit George Leckie, we'd be in prison right now."

THAT PARADISE VALLEY treated George Leckie gently is hardly debatable. The case against him included compelling eyewitness and first-person testimony of two hit-and-run incidents, physical evidence, injuries to the victims-serious enough to require hospitalization in one instance-and Leckie's own admissions to detectives of having consumed alcohol on the night in question.

In March 1988, George Leckie was a fairly prominent Paradise Valley metal-door manufacturer. He was a close associate and friend of Fife Symington, who already had staked his claim as a major player in Republican party politics. The hit-and-runs were before Symington formally announced a bid to be governor of Arizona and before Leckie officially became Symington's campaign-finance director.

Paradise Valley police investigator Brian McFarland, on the other hand, had been awash in public controversy before he investigated the Leckie case. The 43-year-old McFarland had been fired by several police agencies, including Paradise Valley's-which was forced by a Town Personnel Board in the early 1980s to reinstate him.

According to an affidavit in a lawsuit brought by Phoenix private investigator Paul Huebl against McFarland and others stemming from a 1987 incident, McFarland habitually and routinely exhibits unprofessional conduct while discharging his duties as a Paradise Valley police officer... . He has falsified evidence in the past and continues to do so."

The affidavit was signed by John Corcoran, a fellow Paradise Valley cop.
McFarland had arrested Huebl after a shooting clash involving a Paradise Valley resident upon whom Huebl was trying to serve papers. Huebl later was acquitted and sued McFarland and others in Paradise Valley, alleging, among other things, that McFarland invented evidence against him. (A judge has dismissed McFarland from the suit.)

McFarlandÏnow a sergeantÏhas been accused in several cases of slanting his criminal investigations to favor Paradise Valley residents over out-of-towners. Those cases include the Huebl case, the 1991 case of National Football League player Marcus CottonÏa Paradise Valley resident accused of rape by an Arizona State University co-ed (In Paradise Valley, Cotton Is King," New Times, April 15)-and the George Leckie case.

(McFarland has denied allegations in the Huebl and Cotton cases; he did not return telephone calls seeking comment on the Leckie case. Paradise Valley police sergeant Ron Warner tells New Times that his department does not allow its officers to discuss individual cases.)

Town prosecutor Ollinger tells New Times that he doesn't recall specifics of the Leckie case; he does, however, offer his memories of the case of businessman Rudy Miller, who was found guilty of felony charges and was fined $150,000 after a December 1989 chase through Paradise Valley.

In the Miller incident, the businessman's wrath was focused on police officersÏhe tried to run them down. Ollinger recalls submitting that case for felony prosecution. No one was injured in the Rudy Miller case-unlike the Leckie case.

AIR FORCE VETERAN John Faust was in training as a long-distance bicyclist in 1988. Then 30 years old, he says he would ride almost 30 miles from his Mesa apartment to work at a west Phoenix bike shop every weekday.

Because he biked so often, Faust was no stranger to close calls. That's why he always wore bright colors, reflectors and a helmet. But nothing that's happened to him before or since matches the terror he says he felt on the night of March 15, 1988.

I was lit up like a Christmas tree, driving along Lincoln Drive," he tells New Times from his home in West Des Moines, Iowa. This guy in a big car drives up behind me and starts honking very obnoxiously. Honking and honking. I couldn't get out of his way and I couldn't figure why he wouldn't go into another lane and get on his merry way."

Pete Carpenter Jr., then a senior at Scottsdale Chaparral High School, was an eyewitness to what happened next. He was nearby in a pickup truck.

The bike guy was in the right lane, doing nothing wrong," recalls Carpenter. This car is weaving, driving down the middle of the yellow lane and then swaying behind the bike. Finally, he just hits the bike guy and takes off."

Carpenter rushed over to see how Faust was doing. I was on a bike for 600 miles a week at that time," Faust recalls, or the contact would have sent me flying."

Faust suffered a badly bruised hip and skinned knuckles. He and Carpenter quickly decided to chase the seemingly crazed driver. Faust tossed his bike in the back of Carpenter's pickup truck and the two gave chase.

I personally wanted to physically injure the guy because I had seen him almost kill a guy for no reason," Carpenter tells New Times. It was terrible."

With a head start of several seconds, George Leckie made a right turn onto Tatum. Faust and Carpenter saw him try a U-turn and drive up on a curb on the east side of Tatum. They also saw Leckie sideswipe Maria Torregrossa's car.

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