PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) – Phoenix police say they've made arrests in the hit-and-run death of a Grand Canyon University student three years ago.
Adrian Favela, 29, is facing a charge of second-degree murder. Barringtina Mathis, also 29, is facing charges of obstruction of an investigation and tampering with evidence. Police arrested them Wednesday morning.
Three years ago today – April 8, 2018 – Taylor White, 21, was jogging at night when a car ran a red light hit and him as he crossed a street in a crosswalk. White, who was studying to become an athletic trainer, was supposed to get married at the end of April 2018.
"For justice to be finally coming about today -- the three-year anniversary -- no one in this room orchestrated this," White's mom, Angela, said. "God orchestrated justice coming full circle today, on the three-year anniversary of losing Taylor."
"This is every parent's worst nightmare," she continued. "For three years, knowing who was responsible for this and not being to move forward with justice, we are so grateful to Phoenix PD for their ongoing work. ... This is a victory."
According to court paperwork obtained by Arizona's Family, Favela's neighbor noticed damage to the suspect's vehicle the night of the crash and told police Favela admitted to hitting someone with his vehicle. That same vehicle was found on fire in nearby dirt field. Evidence later suggested that accelerant was used to to set the car on fire.
Paperwork indicates Favela admitted to leaving the scene of the crash in a recorded interview. He continued to tell officers that Mathis was in the vehicle with their two children at the time of the crash.
New tech, new witness
While police were not able to discuss details about the investigation, Lt. Leif Myers said there were two specific things that led the arrests.
"We always had our eye on them," Lt. Leif Myers said of Favela and Mathis. "We had some new advancements this year in technology. ... We were always missing a couple of pieces." Myers also said a key witness came forward last week were essential. Those two elements, combined with forensic evidence, tied it all up. "It made it a concrete case."
Myers did not elaborate on the new technology that helped with the case, but said it will be part of the investigators' toolbox going forward.
"We're going to be using it on every hit-and-run case from here on out," he said.
"We'll never get Taylor back," White's father, Nate, said. "[These arrests] won't ever change that. ... It won't bring closure but it will bring justice. And justice goes a long way. Justice will go a long way. ... We've prayed for this."
While it took three years to make the arrests, investigators released photos and video of the car that hit White shortly after the wreck. "It's hard not to look at that and be angry," Sarah Tedeschi, White's fiancé, said at the time. Nate White said she is in Australia right now, but knows about the arrests.
The Whites also talked about how their faith has helped them.
"We've forgiven Adrian and Tina for what they did," Nate said. "We had to for the good of ourselves because we cannot hold that. That doesn't mean that they don't need to pay for the consequences of what they've done. And they will."
"Forgiveness does not negate justice," Angela said. "Justice and mercy can go together. And we have found, especially today, that grief and gratitude go together. They are so intertwined."
Vehicular crimes in Phoenix
"These types of crimes -- vehicular crimes -- are so preventable," Maricopa County Attorney Allister Adel said.
The Whites talked about the high number of deadly car-pedestrian crashes in the Phoenix area. The Phoenix Police Department investigated three separate deadly crashes within a four-hour period on Sunday.
Nate specifically mentioned one of those. "If you're out there, turn yourself in," he said. "Make it easier on yourself. It doesn't have to play out this way."
"Families shouldn't need to go through what we've gone through the last three years," Angela said. "There's a better way. We can lessen this. We can lessen this, all of us working together."
"It doesn't ever end for us," Nate said about the effect White's death had -- and continues to have -- on his family. "But today, the process of justice starts."
"There is no reason for you to drive impaired," Sgt. Mercedes Fortune said. "There is no reason to speed. There is no reason to be distracted. You behind that wheel when you are doing those things, that vehicle turns into a weapon. It takes lives."
News of the arrests of Favela and Mathis came on the heels of a new Maricopa County campaign aimed at making the streets safer for pedestrians and bicycle riders. Margaret Herrera of the Maricopa Association of Governments said the goal is to make people aware, get them to think, and remind drivers where their focus should be when they're behind the wheel.
Arizona -- and Phoenix, in particular -- has been ranked one of the most dangerous places in the country for pedestrians.
Earlier this year, the Phoenix Street Transportation Department created an Office of Pedestrian Safety focused on identifying dangerous streets and intersections that need new crosswalks, signals, and median islands.
Editor's Note: This article has been update to correct the name of Taylor White's father, Nate White.