What was he thinking?!

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On the evening of June 14 at approximately 8:30 p.m., Bishop Thomas J. O'Brien stepped on the accelerator and fled the carnage.

Bishop O'Brien drove off without offering last rites.

Bishop O'Brien drove off without rendering aid, without summoning emergency personnel, without providing information for authorities.

In fact, the head of the Catholic church in greater Phoenix hid from investigators.

When the police finally tracked down Bishop O'Brien, he claimed he had no idea he'd struck and killed a fellow human being. He claimed he had no idea he'd collided with a bear of a man, Jim Reed. The bishop claimed he had no idea he'd catapulted the 240-pound Reed into the air after the initial impact. The bishop claimed he had no idea that, when the windshield was shattered moments later, the explosive damage was caused by a man made in the image and likeness of God.

Bishop Thomas J. O'Brien said he thought he'd hit a dog.

Bishop Thomas J. O'Brien is a monster.

By now, most readers are familiar with Bishop O'Brien's arrogant refusal to accept any responsibility for the death of Jim Reed, as well as his long record of denying that he collaborated in sustaining a culture of sexual abuse in the Phoenix diocese.

These are grievous, mortal sins.

But I want to tell you about a venial sin, something that speaks volumes about this man's character. If you want to know about this cleric's soul, you need look no further than a previous accident.

This is a story the jurors did not hear.

In October 2002, Robert Schake won a coveted parking space as an employee incentive from Catholic Healthcare West at Third Avenue and Thomas next to St. Joseph's Hospital. He'd occupied the coveted slot for approximately two weeks when he noticed damage to his vehicle. After returning from lunch one afternoon, he observed that his car was gouged. There were a total of five scrapes each about eight inches in length along the back end of his vehicle on the driver's side.

Schake, who works in information technology, approached the problem calmly and logically. He returned to the parking lot later that day to inspect the car in the adjoining space for damage. He immediately saw that the right front bumper of the neighboring car was banged up in a manner that precisely lined up with the impact on his own vehicle.

When he asked the parking lot's head of security who owned the car in the neighboring space, he was informed that the individual was none other than Bishop Thomas O'Brien.

Schake went to the headquarters of the diocese. Of course, the bishop was not available.

Reached by telephone, Schake told me what happened.

"It took a while to get this thing through, two to three weeks," said Schake. "Everyone was very nice, but I had to follow up to get it done."

Even though Schake was an innocent victim, he had to force the issue to get his meager compensation of several hundred dollars against the bishop's insurance company. In the process, Schake was turned over to the bishop's attorney, Gregg Leasey.

Because of Schake's doggedness, the bishop's insurance company eventually paid for the repairs.

Did the bishop ever tell Schake he was sorry? Did the bishop ever drop him a note apologizing for the accident? Did the bishop ever express any regret for the aggravation he'd caused Schake?

"No," said Schake, "none whatsoever."

In fact, the bishop took just the opposite attitude. He refused to accept any responsibility.

The bishop's attorney informed Schake that O'Brien denied any involvement in the accident.

"He had no knowledge of hitting my vehicle according to the lawyer," recalled Schake.

Doesn't that sound familiar.

That's the same thing the bishop now claims in his second hit-and-run. Except this time there was a dead man in the street, the bishop's windshield was shattered and clotted with human remains and O'Brien claims he has no knowledge of what hit his vehicle. He has no idea that he ran over a 240-pound giant. His mind was elsewhere.

Bishop O'Brien lied about the parking-lot accident, and I believe he's lying now.

There was a witness to the parking-lot accident.

The head of security observed Bishop Thomas O'Brien exit his Buick after striking Schake's car.

According to Supervisor Mike Gerard, the bishop inspected his own car after the accident and then went over and examined the damage to Schake's vehicle.

In fact, in two separate interviews with the police, Gerard told authorities that Bishop O'Brien had scrutinized both vehicles after the collision.

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Michael Lacey
Contact: Michael Lacey