Friends and family of a high school student killed in an accident with Republican mayoral candidate Ron Asta are outraged that he apologized for an earlier mistake over shoplifting a steak when he released a statement about running for mayor, but didn't mention her death.
"We've been crying for two days now," said Jessica Reeves Foster, a 33-year-old homemaker whose sister, Jennifer Reeves, was killed in an accident with Asta in August 1994. "I don't care that he stole a steak."
Reeves Foster, who is still seething that Asta left the scene of the accident, said if Asta persists in his bid for mayor, she'll picket every event he goes to. "Everywhere he goes, I'm going to be out with a sign," she said.
Asta, who has at least dozen traffic citations on his record, including multiple speeding and stop-sign violations, was cited for failure to yield at a stop sign on West Granada Avenue at Interstate 10. The car he was driving struck a pickup truck driven by Jennifer Reeves, who was headed north on the freeway frontage road. Asta was going east on Granada, passing under the freeway.
The impact was severe. Officers estimated the pickup truck was launched 60 feet through the intersection and into a private yard to the north.
Asta said the ticket was dismissed after he attended driving school. Court records for the case have been destroyed.
Jennifer, who was 18, was about to start her senior year at Amphitheater High School. Family photos showed her in her fast-food uniform, and catching fish that summer in the White Mountains.
When Asta, a former Pima County supervisor, announced his bid Tuesday, he addressed the 1978 shoplifting embarrassment, which he knew would come up in the campaign. "I'm human," he said in a statement. "With nobody to blame but me, it was one of the great humbling experiences of my life. So I am the only candidate who will admit to making mistakes. But I've come back strong from each of them."
When asked why he neglected to mention Reeves in his admission of mistakes, Asta said, "That's the car accident, right?" adding he felt sad about it.
He said he didn't bring it up because it hadn't been in his consciousness lately, although it had been for a long time, and he didn't perceive it as a campaign issue. "This is not something I feel good talking about. It's just sad."
He has a 1992 speeding violation in Marana. But older Tucson City Court traffic records have been destroyed. Since 1998, however, his driving record includes two citations in that year and another in 2000 for traffic violations that are not specified in court records. He was cited for an unsafe turn in 1999, failure to obey a traffic control device in 2001, and a stop sign violation in 2002.
In 2004, he was cited for speeding, and in 2008, for another stop-sign violation. Most recently, in June of last year, he was caught by photo enforcement. He attended defensive-driving school six times.
Asked whether there were any lessons learned from the fatal crash, given his driving record since, he said, "I don't know what to say about that except I get distracted when I'm driving - I know that."
He said he couldn't recall leaving the scene, saying he waited to see what happened. But police reports tell a different story.
An off-duty officer who responded to the scene wrote that he'd been informed by witnesses the driver of the car left it in the intersection and was walking northbound on the left side of the freeway. When an on-duty officer arrived, the two waited for medical personnel to arrive. They broadcast an attempt to locate Asta.
Just as the off-duty officer was about to look for him, Asta returned.
He told officers he had been driving a loaner vehicle from a nearby repair shop and that he went to get the insurance information for the vehicle.
At the suggestion of the police officers, he agreed to an alcohol breath test, which read 0.000 about two hours after the accident. He told officers he checked on the people in the vehicle and then left to go get the additional information.
Rebecca Russ, a 31-year-old legal bookkeeper, was a passenger in the truck. She was 15 at the time, and was in the front seat, between her cousin, Jennifer, and her boyfriend at the time.
Her cousin, whom she described as an outgoing role model, saw the car coming, screamed, and threw her body over hers. Russ thinks that move could have saved her life and kept her from flying through the windshield.
Russ said her head hit the steering wheel, and she blacked out. When she came to, there was a bystander trying to help them. Asta wasn't there - and that's unforgivable to Russ.
She's haunted by the memory of pushing her cousin off of her, and when she did, her head fell back and blood came out of her mouth.
Russ said seeing Asta in the public arena, running for mayor, brought it all back. "We had to do this all once. Now we have to do it again?"
Asta said he's sorry. "I can understand their feelings, and I truly feel so bad about what happened."
Contact reporter Rhonda Bodfield at email@example.com or 573-4243.