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.

Marc Budoff, now a well-known Phoenix defense attorney, speculates what might have happened if Paradise Valley had submitted the Leckie case to the County Attorney's Office-where Budoff used to work. (Budoff was not told the names of the people involved in the case before he gave his opinion.)

Our county prosecutors don't hesitate to claim that a vehicle is a deadly weapon," Budoff says. When they want to go after somebody, they do it. They've gone a lot farther with a lot less than this. The conduct is no less egregious because the victims didn't die. It's the kind of case a prosecutor would love to have."

In Maria Torregrossa, prosecutors also would have had a convincing and sympathetic victim.

After George Leckie injured Torregrossa, she says her back troubled her so much that her future husband often had to carry her to the bathroom. She had to wear a brace and underwent more than a year of chiropractic treatments. The pain, she says, was constant.

THE PARADISE VALLEY Town Court mailed subpoenas to the victims and eyewitnesses of Leckie's mayhem less than a month after the incidents.

Many people don't know the difference between superior courts-where major crimes are adjudged-and city courts-which hear misdemeanors.

I just knew we were going to trial," Maria Torregrossa recalls, and I wanted to have my day in court."

But several events of consequence took place before Leckie's trial. He hired Phoenix defense attorney Larry Kazan, an expert in vehicular law. (Kazan declined to discuss the Leckie case.)

On another front, Leckie's insurance carrier offered Torregrossa and bicyclist John Faust out-of-court settlements for their injuries. Both settled-Torregrossa for an undisclosed sum she says covered her medical bills and little else, and Faust for all of $200.

They bought me off," Faust says. But I still told the guy's lawyer that I'd like to see him in jail for what he did. He told me, ~`It's flat-out not gonna happen.'"

Torregrossa and Faust went to the Paradise Valley Town Court in April 1988 expecting to testify at George Leckie's misdemeanor trial. Also ready to testify was Pete Carpenter Jr., the high school student who had come to Faust's rescue after Leckie had knocked the bicyclist down.

At the courthouse, Torregrossa says, Town Attorney Charles Ollinger walked up to her. He told me I had no case," she recalls. I said, `No case? What do you mean?' I was in tears out in the lobby. He said, `Just trust me on this.'" (Ollinger says he recalls no such conversation.)

She had been living in Arizona for only a year at the time. I didn't know how things worked out here," says Torregrossa, a streetwise native of Brooklyn. I told myself, `There's something really wrong going on.' A guy who should have been raked over the coals, and my prosecutor is telling me I have no case?"

George Leckie's last-minute plea bargain allowed him to plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge of failing to render aid" to Maria Torregrossa. Both hit-and-run charges were dropped. In fact, all charges stemming from Leckie's hit-and-run of bicyclist John Faust were dropped.

Leckie was ordered to attend defensive-driving school and to pay a $215 fine.
He looked pitiful," Torregrossa recalls. His hair was messed up and he was real tired-looking. He walked by me and he said, `I'm really sorry.' So was I, but maybe not for the same reason."

To this day, Pete Carpenter Jr. has no idea who George Leckie is. But Carpenter does recall his own feelings that day in court.

I was really pissed off," he says. I wanted to say something to the judge, but it wasn't my place. He could have killed that guy on the bike so easy. I don't know what was going on behind the scenes up there. I don't know why they did it that way."

Carpenter's dad, Pete Sr., says he had to do what he calls fatherly footwork" with his son afterward.

He was a young man who reacted as a good citizen and then watched the law let somebody go who should have been punished severely," says Carpenter Sr. All we heard was that the guy was very prominent. I tried to tell my son that he had done his duty, even if the authorities hadn't."

A FEW MONTHS after his bout with vehicular madness, George Leckie signed on with Fife Symington's gubernatorial campaignÏthen in its formative stages.

The pair had met while Leckie was serving on the Board of Trustees at the Phoenix Country Day School, which is located in Paradise Valley. After Symington defeated Terry Goddard in early 1991, he hired Leckie as his deputy chief of staffÏat a salary of $85,000 a year.

Leckie's salary dipped to $76,000 last February after angry state employees protested the lofty pay of Symington's brain trust. After accusations of fiscal mismanagement, the governor appointed Leckie director of Project SLIM, his cost-cutting panel.

The governor has stood by Leckie despite new reports of financial improprieties. A few weeks ago, for example, Leckie reportedly repaid a gubernatorial fund more than $1,300 for a stopover in Hawaii with his girlfriend that reporters discovered was unrelated to state business.

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