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Police searching for hit-and-run driver who plowed into veteran

Posted at 10:23 PM, Oct 09, 2018
and last updated 2018-10-12 02:02:05-04

A Valley veteran is recovering in the hospital tonight after a driver plowed into him and took off.

The hit-and-run happened early Sunday as the father was trying to help somebody across the street on 51st Avenue near Indian School Road.

Phoenix police are trying to piece together who was driving and hit Mario Ortiz.

Ortiz, 34, has always served others.

"He is just the type of person that is always willing to help somebody," said Monica Ortiz, Mario's wife.

The Air Force veteran was leaving the Purple Turtle bar around 1:30 a.m. Sunday when a woman rushed over.

"A woman comes up to us saying, 'Hey there is a homeless guy across the street. Can you guys help me? I don’t know what is wrong with him.'"

"She didn’t know if he was breathing, or drunk, or what," said Juan Bustamante, who was hanging out with Monica and Mario.

Bustamante was walking across the street with Mario and the concerned woman when he heard the loud crash.

"I turned around he was already in the air, going down."

Bustamante said the car did not even brake.

"I was just in shock that something like that happened and the car just kept going."

"If nobody was out there he would’ve just bled out," said Monica.

Mario was rushed to the hospital.

"[He had] a broken neck, a broken leg, a broken ankle," said Monica, who listed other injuries including cuts to his head and internal bleeding, among others.

The injuries were so severe doctors put Mario on breathing tubes, and just took them out Tuesday, so he could start talking.

"The first thing he said is, 'What happened to me?'"

There is some confusion about the car that hit Mario. 

Monica believes it is a maroon four-door vehicle.

Phoenix police say officers recovered a silver side-view mirror from the scene, and they hope it leads to the specific make and model.

"The front bumper is damaged for sure because they were pieces all around," said Monica.

Sunday's hit-and-run is not the first in the area.

"There have been a couple hit-and-run accident here within the last year," said Tony Vasquez, who works at the Purple Turtle.

A boyfriend of one of Vasquez's family members was killed in the same area back in 2015.

"He went across the street and he got hit by a drunk driver," he said.

That hit and run suspect was arrested. Mario's is still out there.

His two kids are now left struggling to understand.

"Wondering like how can somebody just hit their dad and leave," Monica said.

A GoFundMe page has been created to help raise funds to support Mario's family.

Last year alone there were more than 3,500 pedestrian hit-and-runs in Arizona.

Phoenix police hope to release more details about the car soon.

In a statement, the department said, "The investigation is ongoing. Anyone with information is asked to call Silent Witness at (480) W-I-T-N-E-S-S, or for Spanish (480) T-E-S-T-I-G-O. As always, callers may remain anonymous and could earn a reward of up to $1,000."