Mesa student dies after hit-and-run

Eric Joseph Leeman was taken into custody on Nov. 16.

Shayla Durrett

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A motorist accused of killing 19-year-old Mesa student Whitney Young plead not guilty to felony hit-and-run charges on Nov. 20.

Eric Joseph Leeman, 20, was arrested on the morning of Nov. 16 at his home near the San Diego State University campus.

Young died shortly after the arrest on Nov. 16 having suffered severe brain trauma and multiple broken bones from the hit-and-run accident on the morning of Nov. 12.

“We are heartbroken by the loss of our Whitney and have flooded her room with tears,” said Jonathan Young, Whitney’s brother. “We were blessed by having four days to be by her side and hug and kiss her before she died. A very bright, warm, funny, loving, shining light has gone out in the world.”

A police officer driving in a nearby neighborhood of the accident spotted a burgundy BMW in a driveway like the one that was suspected in the hit-and-run.

The police verified that it was the vehicle involved by comparing broken-off auto parts from the front bumper that were left at the scene to the damage sustained on Leeman’s car.

Leeman’s roommates told detectives that Leeman was at a party the night of the accident and was a frequent drinker, according to police.

According to traffic Sgt. Jeff Fellows, Leeman admitted to being involved in an accident on the morning of Nov. 12, but claimed he thought he had hit an animal. He denied drinking that night.

Investigators said Friday that they believe alcohol may have been a factor in the crash.

“We suspect that alcohol was involved but have no way to prove that,” Fellows told reporters.

According to Deputy District Attorney Allison Warden, Leeman had one prior DUI conviction.

Leeman is facing charges of felony hit-and-run and could receive a maximum of four years in prison if convicted.

The preliminary hearing is set for Jan. 11. His bail has been set at $300,000.

According to police reports, the vehicle struck Young at 3:15 a.m. on Nov. 12 while she was crossing Montezuma Road and Rockford Drive with a group of friends.

Witnesses told police the car accelerated as it was coming toward them. The four friends walking with Young made it safely across the street.

Young had been unconscious and in a coma at Scripps Mercy Hospital since Nov. 12.

“Her death is a senseless tragedy that has taken the life of this beautiful young woman who had her whole life to live,” the Young family said in a statement. “It has devastated our family.”

Young’s family plans on donating her heart and other vital organs.

“It helps us to know that Whitney will live on forever,” said Jonathan Young.

Young began attending Mesa this fall and was planning to transfer to SDSU. She was a liberal arts major who wanted to become a teacher.

“Mesa is really saddened by the loss of Whitney Young,” said Adela Jacobson, Dean of Student Affairs. “We knew it looked grim, but we had hope of all hope that she would survive. She had a bright future ahead of her. This was just a shock.”

Jacobson said that Mesa has established a scholarship in Young’s memory for students who have similar interests as Young.

“We really want to raise as much as we can because she is one of our own,” Jacobson said. “By having a scholarship in Whitney’s name it will go to a student who could use the money. It’s a way of passing on the legacy.”

The Mesa Student Affairs Office, with the help of the Associated Student Government, hung yellow ribbons on Mesa campus trees on Nov. 16 before news of Young’s passing was made public.

There was a card signing in front of the cafeteria on Nov. 17 between 10 a.m. and noon and again from 1 to 2:30 p.m. The cards were sent to the Young family.

The memorial service was on Nov. 21 at Malaga Cove in Young’s hometown of Palos Verdes Estates.

For students and staff members seeking support, Mesa counselors are on hand in room I-430 or can be reached at (619) 388-2672. In addition, Mesa College Student Health Services, located in room L-504, can be reached at (619) 388-2774.

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