Arizona drivers are rude and sometimes angry. Certainly not all of them but at least a lot.
“You get people cutting you off all the time,” said one driver, “They’ll even give you the finger.”
Most of us have experienced road rage at least once while driving around town. In some cases, we have been the victims of it.
“Someone cut off my wife once and pulled a gun on her,” said one driver.
According to AAA, nearly 80 percent of drivers have admitted experiencing significant anger behind the wheel. In fact, more than 8 million drivers nationwide have engaged in an extreme form of road rage, including ramming another car or confronting a driver.
“Several years ago I had a pistol pulled on me,” said one driver.
Police departments in Arizona, including Phoenix, report seeing road-rage incidents on our roads and freeways daily.
“It’s dangerous for everybody on the road when people’s emotions get the better of them,” said Phoenix PD Sgt. Vince Lewis.
The violence associated with road rage includes drivers ramming other drivers, confronting them at stop lights, physical altercations and sometimes the use of deadly force.
“A normal driver can change from peaceful to violent in a very short time,” said Lewis. “We have seen road-rage incidents lead to shootings.”
The violence is not unexpected when you look at the numbers of new drivers on our roads. Back in 2008, Arizona had roughly 4.8 million licensed drivers. We now have more than 5.6 million.
“That’s a lot more drivers on the road,” said Alberto Gutier with the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety.
ROAD-RAGE INCIDENT TURNS DEADLY
On Sept. 25 of this year, Chris Romo was driving with a friend to pick up some glasses in central Phoenix. Romo was sitting in the passenger seat when a driver in another car became angry. It’s unclear what led to the incident but it appears words were exchanged between people in both cars.
“My son said something like 'What’s your problem?” said Romo's mother, Marcela Ruiz.
Seconds later, police say Timothy Pacale pulled out a gun and started shooting. One of the bullets hit Romo in the head and he died at the scene.
“I don’t understand why,” said Ruiz.
With tears pouring down her face and constantly bawling in her daughters arms, she could barely formulate sentences. Her daughter stroked her hair and comforted her.
“I feel like I don’t want to live anymore," Ruiz said. "I don’t want him to be alone."
The family has a few pictures of Romo up in the family house along with flowers, a couple candles, the Bible and the glasses he was going to pick up.
“(Pascale) didn’t give my son a chance at nothing,” said Ruiz.
The driver who was with Romo was also shot but survived, as was a woman who was not even involved in the initial incident but was shot. Romo’s friend has had multiple surgeries associated with his injuries along with counseling to help him cope with the mental pain.
“He just cries all day and throws up when he hears gunshots,” said Ruiz.
Timothy Pascale has been charged with murder in the first degree, along with aggravated assault and some weapons-related charges.
According to court records, Pacale was involved in another road-rage incident back in 2012. A police report shows Pascale and another driver got into an accident. The report shows Pascale was rear-ended by the other driver. Police say Pascale then walked to the victim’s car and pulled out a gun.
Pascale never fired the weapon but he was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct.
There is a car in the driveway at Marcela Ruiz’s home that is covered with a tarp. Under the cark brown tarp is a car that Chris Romo had been working on for months before he was killed.
“He never got to enjoy it," Ruiz said. "He worked so hard to fix it up."
Next to that car is a Blazer with the words “We love you Chris, gone but never forgotten” on the back window.
“I miss him so, so much,” said Ruiz.
Ruiz is still struggling with the loss of her only son. Surrounded by several of her daughters, Ruiz hugged her youngest, struggling to find the right words when her little one said, “I miss Chris.”
The family hopes Pascale will be punished fully to the law so that he won’t be able to hurt another family.
POSSIBLE CHANGES IN REPORTING ROAD RAGE
The data specific to road-rage incidents in Arizona is not available. Law enforcement officials are not required to track road-rage incidents.
The Governor’s Office on Highway Safety tracks many road-related incidents including crashes, wrong-way driving incidents, DUI statistics and so much more. However, it does not track road-rage incidents or possible road-rage incidents.
That bit of a surprise to Alberto Gutier, the director of Arizona Governor’s Office of Highway Safety.
“I’m going to look into this,” he said.
Gutier plans to reach out to several law enforcement agencies along with staff in the governor’s office to see if a box on a crash or accident report can be added to include possible road-rage incidents.
If you find yourself the victim of a road-rage incident recommend, get out of the situation right away. Police warn that you never know what the other driver is capable of and you don’t know if they have a weapon inside their car.
“It could start with a simple misunderstanding then you let your emotions get the better of you,” said Sgt. Lewis.
Police say not to do anything that could further upset the other driver, and if you feel threatened to immediately call 911.