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Bishop Faces Serious Charges in Hit and Run Accident

Aired June 17, 2003 - 21:01   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Well, the Catholic Bishop of Phoenix is now formally charged with leaving the scene of a fatal accident. We talked about this story last night. Bishop Thomas O'Brien could face prison if he's convicted.
Martin Savidge has more details.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As the bells of Saint Mary's Basilica toiled, the Arizonan Catholic church finds itself finding faces its second conflict of faith in a month. 67- year-old bishop, Timothy O'Brien stands accused of running over a 43- year-old father of two Saturday evening and leaving him dying in the street.

RICK ROMLEY, MARICOPA COUNTY ATTY.: I have authorized the filing of a direct complaint against Bishop Thomas J. O'Brien for leaving the scene of a serious or fatal accident.

SAVIDGE: Police say a witness saw the license plate and passed it on to authorities. Reportedly the O'Brien did not mention the incident to the police Monday morning almost 36 hours later. The bishop is said to have told police he thought he had hit a dog or was struck by a rock. Investigators say O'Brien had attended several confirmations just hours before the tragedy. They cannot say if drugs or alcohol played a role, but they're investigating.

ROMLEY: That's always very difficult when such a long period of time has passed since the accident itself.

SAVIDGE: According to police, Jim Reed, was jay walking to cash a bus when he was hit. The force of the impact broke the car's windshield. A second unidentified car also hit Reed. Both cars allegedly failed to stop. Bishop O'Brien was arrested two weeks to the day after making an unprecedented agreement with prosecutors, sparing himself from indictment on obstruction charges for protecting priest accused of sexual abuse. This latest incident has only added to questions about the bishop's ability to lead the Arizona Catholic Church.

JOSEPH REAVES, "ARIZONA REPUBLIC": Even some of his closest aide think this can't last. There's already some names being quoted who might come in here, and an administrator will probably be appointed in the next couple weeks. SAVIDGE: On the steps at Saint Mary's parishioners say they were praying for the bishop and for the victims family, but reserving judgment.

(on camera): Do you think he should resign.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's not for me to decide.

SAVIDGE: This latest tragedy revolving around bishop O'Brien has clearly shaken the city of Phoenix, but not the faith of the people he serves.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SAVIDGE: Bishop O'Brien is now out on bond. He spent most of the day in seclusion. If he is convicted on the charge against him, he could face anywhere from probation to over three years from prison if convicted. Authorities say they're not done with their investigation. That they are looking into possibly more serious charges, including an allegation that he told his secretary to look into getting the windshield of his car repaired before authorities arrived -- Anderson.

COOPER: I know Arizona is very tough on people who leave the scene of an accident.

If he had stayed at the scene, he would still be facing charges wouldn't he or is the investigation still not clear on exactly what happened yet?

SAVIDGE: He wouldn't necessarily be facing charges, because an accident can happen, and people still do die in what are just deemed as accidents. Clearly the investigators take it quite seriously that a period of 36 hours went by before any admission of an incident -- Anderson.

COOPER: All right. Martin Savidge, thanks very much, in Phoenix.

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