Death of a Witness
John Yeoman's death last week in an automobile crash is not expected to derail a federal grand jury investigation of Governor J. Fife Symington III.
"The case does not turn on Yeoman," a source close to the grand jury probe says. "It would have been made better with him, but it's not crucial."
Meanwhile, a source familiar with toxicology tests performed on Yeoman tells New Times that Yeoman's blood-alcohol level measured .11, which is slightly over the legal definition of intoxication, perhaps equivalent to consuming five beers. As of this writing, no other substances had shown up in the medical examiner's toxicology screen.
The blood-alcohol measurement contradicts Phoenix police statements about Yeoman's condition at the time of the accident. "There is no sign of impairment on his part," Phoenix police Detective Mike McCullough said Sunday. "I don't know if all the toxicology report is back yet, but I know the preliminary report . . . from the hospital was that there was no alcohol involved on his part."
Tuesday morning, police Sergeant Mike Torres said investigators had not yet seen any toxicology reports, and therefore stood by the earlier assertion.
A spokeswoman for the Maricopa County medical examiner said Tuesday that the toxicology report was not completed.
Although Yeoman's death is not expected to undo the federal grand jury investigation of Symington, it substantially reduces the pressure on the governor. The source close to the grand jury probe says Yeoman had indicated to federal prosecutors that he was willing to cooperate with the government in its criminal probe of Symington's finances.
"They were very sure he was going to flip," the source says.
The U.S. Attorney's Office in Los Angeles handling the criminal probe of the governor declined to comment on any discussions with Yeoman or discuss the impact of his death on the investigation.
Yeoman's attorney, Doug Behm, declined to comment on any discussions his client may have had with federal prosecutors.
Yeoman was Symington's longtime personal accountant and campaign aide. On April 3--two days before he was killed--Yeoman pleaded not guilty to nine felony counts stemming from a grand jury investigation into alleged bid-rigging of a state contract.
Yeoman's former accounting firm, Coopers & Lybrand, won the $1.5 million contract in 1991 after suddenly lowering its final offer by $437,000.
The grand jury has been investigating Symington's finances since at least July 1993. The investigation is two-pronged: the alleged illegal rigging of the Project SLIM state contract in exchange for Coopers & Lybrand's reduction of Symington's bills; and whether Symington filed false or misleading financial documents to obtain loans for development projects.
Yeoman played a crucial role in both areas. It was Yeoman who prepared or reviewed many of Symington's financial statements the grand jury has examined. It also was Yeoman who allegedly obtained information on competitors' Project SLIM bids from former Symington aide George Leckie.
The grand jury's main focus has long been Symington's financial-disclosure statements, with inquiries into Project SLIM developing over the past six months, the source familiar with the probe says.
Yeoman's death may actually accelerate the grand jury probe of the governor. The government no longer must wait for negotiations with Yeoman to play out.
"This may have the unusual effect of speeding up their indictment" of Symington, the source says.
Phoenix police were saying little about the crash. A final report is not expected for several weeks. Preliminary data all point to an accident.
"The preliminary assessment is you have got a vehicle driven by Mr. Yeoman that makes a left-hand turn in front of oncoming traffic in an effort to turn into the drive at the Pointe resort and is struck by a northbound pickup truck," says Detective McCullough.
The intersection where the accident occurred is treacherous. Two days after the accident, on Easter morning, northbound traffic barreled down the steep hill on North Seventh Street, well in excess of the posted 45 mph speed limit. The three-lane divided road curves to the northeast, reaching its apex at the entrance to the Pointe Hilton at Tapatio Cliffs resort.
Vehicles entering and leaving the resort darted across the northbound lanes to avoid traffic, which appears suddenly over the crest of the hill. There were several close calls.
Yeoman was southbound on Seventh Street on Friday around 7 p.m. when he moved into a dedicated lane to turn left into the Pointe. There is no stop at the median crossing; only a yield sign slows vehicles before they must cross the northbound lanes.
Police say Yeoman turned in front of a pickup driven by 35-year-old David Int-Hout. Yeoman's two-door, 1996 Ford Escort was no match for the 1979 Ford pickup truck that smashed into his right front fender and passenger door.
Yeoman's car was hurled down Seventh Street more than 100 feet before shearing a concrete curb and smashing into a relatively thin, 15-foot-tall palm tree in the median. Skid marks are visible on the curb.
Int-Hout has not been charged in the accident and McCullough downplayed a report in a daily newspaper that Int-Hout had admitted using methamphetamine shortly before the accident.
"Where they got he made admissions on that I have no idea," McCullough says.
Phoenix police, however, are investigating whether Int-Hout was impaired. Int-Hout was hospitalized for one night and released. He declined to comment Monday other than to say he was very sore. He suffered a seven-inch laceration on his head.
While conspiracy theorists had a field day speculating on the death of a man who might have implicated Symington, there is no indication of foul pay.
"It was absolutely an accident," says Yeoman's attorney, Doug Behm. "To try to make anything more of it than that is just off the beam.
Get the Weekly Newsletter
Our weekly feature stories, movie reviews, calendar picks and more - minus the newsprint and sent directly to your inbox.