Moments before the first witness in his trial was to take the stand a former school bus driver admitted he had sex with a 15-year-old girl and fled to Mexico with her.

Todd Hezlitt, 39, is facing between 3.75 and 12.75 years in prison after pleading guilty to two counts of sexual conduct with a minor and one count of custodial interference.

Tuesday was the first day in Hezlitt's trial in Pima County Superior Court.

Deputy Pima County Attorney Alan Goodwin told jurors Hezlitt met the sophomore when he was driving a school bus for the Altar Valley School District and she was taking the bus home from after-school activities.

The girl had been expected to testify. In addition, Goodwin told jurors they would see sexually explicit text messages between the two and hear them discuss their relationship during a phone conversation secretly recorded by the Pima County Sheriff's Department.

Hezlitt was arrested in April 2012 on charges of sexual conduct with a minor.

Hezlitt fled to Mexico with the alleged victim in late May and wasn't caught until late July when the girl turned herself in to the U.S. Consulate in Mazatlan.

This morning, defense attorney Chris Kimminau told Judge Richard Fields it was the girl’s idea to go to Mexico and Hezlitt only went with her to protect her.

The girl was free to leave at anytime and, in fact, Hezlitt assisted her in getting to the consulate, Kimminau said.

Hezlitt will be sentenced April 15.

Hezlitt could receive probation on one of the sexual conduct counts, but mandatory prison on the other two counts. If given probation, he will be on a sex offender caseload. He will also be required to register as a sex offender.

Contact reporter Kim Smith at 573-4241 or On StarNet: Follow courthouse news in Kim Smith's blog, At the Courthouse, at courthouse

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