Man in custody after Mesa Police say he ran over a man and stomped on him, killing him

Posted at 12:11 PM, Aug 13, 2022
and last updated 2022-08-14 01:14:53-04

MESA, AZ — A man is in custody after he allegedly ran over another man with his car and stomped on him, killing him Friday in Mesa.

Mesa Police say it happened near Main Street and Ellsworth Road just after 12:30 p.m. They say they got multiple calls about someone intentionally using their vehicle to run over another person.

When they arrived, they found the victim, 63-year-old Christopher Heimer, dead at the scene.

According to police, a witness used their own firearm and shot a round into the ground to prevent the suspect, 61-year-old John Lagana, from leaving the area until officers arrived.

Police have learned that Heimer was walking along the road westbound at the same time Lagana was driving eastbound. Lagana allegedly swerved out of the road and struck Heimer as he was walking on the sidewalk. Heimer was thrown into the landscaping of a nearby apartment complex.

After driving slightly further on the sidewalk, he then turned around and drove back towards the victim. Lagana reportedly drove onto the sidewalk and into the landscaping and hit Heimer again after he was already lying on the ground injured. He then got out of the car and stomped on Heimer's head multiple times. At this point, the witness shot a round into the ground and Lagana stopped.

Witnesses also told police that before the incident, Lagana was parked in a vacant lot near Heimer's home and honked his horn repeatedly until Heimer came out. After he came out, that is when Lagana left the lot and drove onto the street. Officers found skid marks they believe are from Lagana's vehicle in the roadway and on the sidewalk where the incident took place.

“No one deserves to go out the way he did,” said Emmanuel Reynoso Avila, who lives next-door to Heimer’s home.

20-year-old Avila says he has known Heimer since he was 8 years old, adding Heimer would watch him and his brother while they played outside when they were younger.

"Chris was super friendly. Really welcoming to everyone in the neighborhood," he said.

Avila says Heimer was a light in the neighborhood, one that was dimmed Friday. Avila says the day was just like any other until...

"All of a sudden we hear honking and we hear a car speed up. We look over and we see my neighbor Chris get full on rammed by someone who was supposedly his friend," he said in disbelief.

Police describe Lagana as Heimer's acquaintance.

"We saw Chris fly through the air. We saw him land. He was unresponsive. I immediately rushed inside. I grabbed my gun," Avila told ABC15.

Avila says Lagana then got back into his car.

"I yelled 'Get out of the car.' I shot a warning shot, just to let the guy know I was serious, and then he eventually came out of the car once I aimed it at him," he said.

Avila added that's where the gun stayed pointed until police arrived.

"He was a gentle soul, and I know that everyone in this neighborhood is going to miss him. I sure... I sure will," said Avila.

Lena Santonocito agrees.

She was in tears, sitting on a couch located in front of Heimer’s home, when ABC15 approached her.

She tells us Chris was her best friend, and she was his.

“I just want him to know that I love him very much. He was a good man. He was a good father. He was a good husband. He was a good friend,” said Santonocito.

She says the pain she feels has made her sick to her stomach, unsure of how she will be able to live life without him.

“Just seemed like something out of a movie,” said Avila, as he remembered what he witnessed.

The community is now hailing Avila a hero.

“I couldn’t just stand by and watch my neighbor die senselessly,” he told ABC15.

Avila says he just did what Chris would have done for him and his family.

“I’m glad that the guy is behind bars, like I said, I just wish I could have done something sooner to save his life,” said Avila.

During an interview with investigators, Lagana said he knew Heimer, adding Heimer let him park at his home because Lagana was homeless.

Officials say Lagana told detectives his ex-girlfriend was living in Heimer’s home.

Lagana is currently being held on a $2,000,000 bond and is set to appear in court August 18, 2022. He is facing one charge of first-degree murder.