Yuma city administrator facing charges for hit-and-run, lying to state troopers

By: - August 13, 2021 4:26 pm

A mural in downtown Yuma. Photo by Carol M. Highsmith | Carol M. Highsmith Archive, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division

The top employee for the City of Yuma is facing criminal charges for an alleged hit-and-run accident in June, including filing a false police report. 

The charges against Yuma City Administrator Philip Rodriguez stem from a June 3 accident on Interstate 8 outside the city limits. Rodriguez is accused of side-swiping an RV, fleeing the scene and then lying to police when they questioned him, according to an incident report from the Arizona Department of Public Safety.

Rodriguez was driving a gray Toyota 4Runner westbound on the highway, according to the police report. The driver of the RV said Rodriguez “started to weave from side to side within” his lane and then “started making hand gestures at” the RV driver.

The RV driver slowed down to let Rodriguez pass, but when he did, the driver told police that Rodriguez also slowed down. 

“All of the sudden (Rodriguez) unsafely changed lanes right next to him, sideswiping the left front side fender of his vehicle with the right rear quarter panel,” the report says. After the collision, Rodriguez sped away, the RV driver told state troopers. 

The driver pulled off the highway and parked at a nearby parking lot to call 911. That’s when Rodriguez suddenly parked next to him and began “to do aggressive hand gestures to him,” the man told police.

In a supplemental witness report, the RV driver wrote that he could see Rodriguez appeared to be yelling while holding a cell phone, and he used his SUV to block the RV from exiting the parking lot. 

Rodriguez gave a much different version of events to state troopers. He said he was traveling in the fast lane with cars both in front and behind him and the RV beside him when the RV began to swerve from side to side. 

“(Rodriguez) noticed his right side mirror blind-side sensor turn on, indicating (the RV) veered into his lane, and appeared to him (the RV) struck the right rear corner of his vehicle,” troopers wrote. 

Rodriguez told the state trooper, whom he met at a Department of Motor Vehicle parking lot in Yuma, that he never saw the RV after the incident on the highway and kept driving to work. Rodriguez added in a supplemental written report that he notified Yuma Deputy Police Chief Lisa Culp of the accident, and she put a “call into the system immediately.” 

But Rodriguez’s claims didn’t match video footage that DPS obtained.

The RV was equipped with video cameras, and the driver supplied the footage to state troopers. 

“By reviewing (the RV’s) video camera footage, I noticed at no point (the RV) attempted to change lanes or was weaving within it’s lane before or after the impact with (Rodriguez), instead (Rodriguez) was the vehicle that unsafely changed lanes,” the report says. “Further investigation revealed that Rodriguez failed to remain at the scene of a collision.” 

The Yuma City Council has not discussed Rodriguez’s criminal charges in any meeting, and a city spokesman said it is a “private matter.” 

“The City of Yuma is aware of the situation concerning City Administrator Rodriguez. The allegations do not involve Mr. Rodriguez in an official capacity or involve City property. The City has no comment on this private matter,” the city said in an emailed statement to the Arizona Mirror

Rodriguez provided the Mirror a statement from his attorneys.

“Mr. Rodriguez has pled not guilty to these charges and maintains his innocence,” read the statement from the Mitchell, Stein, Carey and Chapman law firm. “There will be a time and place to discuss the facts and circumstances of this matter that support Mr. Rodriguez’s innocence. We look forward to that time, but it is not now.”

Rodriguez appeared before a judge for the first time this week on charges of unsafe lane change, failure to remain at the scene and filing a false police report. 

Rodriguez was hired by the City of Yuma in late 2019 and came to the city with controversy already in tow

At his previous job in Brighton, Colo., he was fired as the city manager. The city council said it has “lost faith” in Rodriguez, while his defenders said he lost his job because he was a whistleblower on water surplus irregularities. 

Before working on Colorado, Rodriguez left his job as city manager for the small city of Fate, Texas, after only 15 months. The exact reason for his departure is still unknown, but he was paid a $160,000 severance.

Attempts to contact the RV driver were unsuccessful. 

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Jerod MacDonald-Evoy
Jerod MacDonald-Evoy

Reporter Jerod MacDonald-Evoy joins the Arizona Mirror from the Arizona Republic, where he spent 4 years covering everything from dark money in politics to Catholic priest sexual abuse scandals. Jerod has also won awards for his documentary films which have covered issues such as religious tolerance and surveillance technology used by police. He brings strong watchdog sensibilities and creative storytelling skills to the Arizona Mirror.