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Balkcom says he ran its plate number. It came back to a Trinidad Cota, of neighboring Peoria. The car turned into an apartment complex, but instead of following it, Balkcom says he drove to nearby Grand Avenue and parked.
"I tell myself, 'If they don't have nothing to hide, they'll go up 67th Avenue and I'll be done with them. If they come back on Grand--which would take them three or four different turns--they're probably hiding something. Within a minute, they drove right by me on Grand."
Balkcom says he pulled the car over after it made an unsafe lane change. He then cited Trinidad Cota for having no proof of insurance, warned him about driving more carefully and sent him and his buddies on their way.
Balkcom then noted the encounter on a Glendale police identification card that detailed the date, time, location and identification of Cota and the front-seat passenger.
About two weeks later, Balkcom asked a body-shop repairman named John Tercero to estimate the cost of fixing Eli's car, the 1984 white Oldsmobile Cutlass. Tercero's son, John Jr., happened to be present and said the car looked familiar.
"John [Jr.] says out of nowhere, 'This is the kind of car Skippy was in when he shot at us,'" Balkcom says. "I ask him who Skippy hangs around with. I swear to God, he mentions the name Trinidad Cota. Things were getting interesting."
Tercero Jr. confirms Balkcom's account.
Balkcom says he called a friend at the Peoria PD: "I say I'm looking for a guy named Skippy. Ha ha. Ever heard of him? He tells me they just busted a guy in an agg assault named Skip. Says he's Jimmy Wright, who's been doing a lot of ripping and threatening people.
"I was in a tough spot--I didn't want to be implicated for trying to manipulate an investigation, which I wasn't. So I sat on my hands."
In January, Balkcom was the crime-scene manager at a shooting when he bumped into Tom Clayton, the detective still working the shooting of the Glencroft Retirement Center security guard.
Balkcom respects Clayton, and he opened up about Jimmy Wright.
"I told him about Skip and he was dumbfounded," Balkcom says. "He said he'd look into it."
Court records reveal that a 22-year-old El Mirage man named Jimmy Eugene "Skip" Wright is awaiting trial on aggravated assault stemming from an October 1995 incident at a Peoria gas station.
Wright allegedly fired a .38-caliber at a car during the clash. No one was wounded, and Peoria police confiscated the gun.
In March, New Times confirmed that Wright owns a white 1981 Oldsmobile Cutlass. Its license-plate number is LFK 656--strikingly similar to the license plate the wounded security guard scribbled down, LFK 865.
There is no known connection between Jimmy Eugene "Skip" Wright and Eli Balkcom.
Tom Clayton apparently hasn't written reports to reflect these major developments. But last Friday, Clayton arrested Wright and 18-year-old Dennis Bryley on charges related to the July 1995 security-guard shooting at the Glencroft Retirement Center. Police say Bryley is suspected to be the shooter and Wright the driver in the case.
"I'm happy I lucked onto something that may break that case open," Frank Balkcom says. "But I'll tell you: If Tom Clayton hadn't been around, they would have gotten an indictment on Eli in this. And they may have convicted his ass."
Eli's attorney, Joe Chornenky, says he and his client have rejected a plea-bargain offer that called for a seven-year prison sentence.
"I've known Eli for about two years now," Chornenky says, "and, unlike a lot of my clients, I've never found him to be lying to me about anything he's done or hasn't done. When he says that David Molinar had a club or a stick, I believe him."
The attorney says prosecutor Burt Jorgensen last week indicated that he plans to dismiss the two counts in the gun-pointing case.
Chornenky points out that Eli has passed lie-detector tests that concerned his culpability in each case developed by Preston Becker after the Molinar incident. The tests were administered by a Glendale PD polygrapher.
And though the evidence against Eli in the Molinar case seems compelling, the victim himself may make a conviction more difficult. Phoenix police records show that last November 22, an officer cited Molinar after another run-in on the street.
The officer reported that the couple had gestured to Molinar to slow down as his car raced down a residential street. Molinar stopped his car, and, according to the police report, allegedly threatened to shoot the couple.
"He then took off his shirt and kept reaching to the side as if he was going to grab an object, possibly a gun," the report says. "David kept telling [the couple] that he was going to shoot them. He also stated he was a member of some west-side gang . . ."
On April 18, Molinar received a 30-day suspended jail sentence after he was convicted of threatening and intimidating.
He also is awaiting trial on a charge of misdemeanor assault, stemming from a February 7 domestic dispute.
Frank Balkcom, meanwhile, worries that airing his family's travails will ruin his 14-year career. But he says it's something he's felt compelled to do.
"On duty, my squad is my family," he says, "and at home, my family is my family. But families are never perfect, you know.