Arrests made in hit-and-run death of GCU student
By Lana Sweeten-Shults
GCU News Bureau
Angela White is a force of nature, speaking with such passion about her son Taylor and the three-year journey to deliver him justice.
It was on the evening of April 8, 2018, when the then 21-year-old Grand Canyon University athletic training student was on an evening jog with a friend and was suddenly struck at a crosswalk by a white SUV that ran a red light at 31st Avenue and Camelback Road, just outside the University.
He died at the scene.
But three years to the day, Angela and husband Nate returned from their home in Colorado Springs, Colorado, to GCU, where the city of Phoenix Police Department on Thursday announced the arrests of two suspects in the case, Peoria couple Adrian Favela and Barringtina Mathis, both 29 years old.
Favela, who police said was driving the SUV, has been booked on a second-degree murder charge and other felony charges, while Mathis has been accused of obstructing a criminal investigation and tampering with evidence.
Mathis reported that her SUV had been stolen. It was found burning later that evening.
“What a crazy day – what a crazy day – for justice to finally be coming about today, the three-year anniversary,” Angela said at a press conference on the GCU campus. “No one in this room orchestrated this. God orchestrated justice coming full circle today on the three-year anniversary of losing Taylor.”
A high school heavyweight wrestler and the oldest of four siblings, Taylor was known at GCU for his adventurous spirit. He served as a trip leader in the University’s Outdoor Recreation Program.
“Taylor was strong. He was described as fearless by some participants on our trips,” said campus Outdoor Recreation manager Chad Schlundt, who joked that White was given the nickname “Quadzilla” for his bold athleticism.
Peeking over the edge of Horseshoe Bend? That was Taylor, his dad said, though his mom would always get a check-in call from her full-of-life son, who assured her that he was OK.
“We miss his presence and his contagious quest to have fun and have a good laugh,” Schlundt said. “He had a very unique ability to connect with students despite the walls that others around him may have put up. Taylor boldly led in all that he did here at Grand Canyon University.”
The day after Taylor’s death, he was supposed to report to the Kansas City Royals for an athletic training internship, said his dad. It was his dream to work for a professional sports team.
And just three weeks after that fateful hit-and-run, he was supposed to marry fiancée Sarah Tedeschi, who graduated from GCU in 2018 and is now completing a dance internship at Hillsong College in Australia.
“Obviously, that never happened,” said Nate, who wanted to honor Tedeschi, too, who had lived her April 8, the anniversary of Taylor’s death, the day before in Australia. “… To be able to tell her last night that Adrian and Tina are in custody and that process of justice is starting to play out … is an answer to our prayer.”
Court paperwork obtained by Arizona’s Family revealed that Favela’s neighbor noticed damage to the SUV the night of the crash and that Favela admitted to hitting someone with his vehicle. Evidence suggested an accelerant was used to set the car on fire. Favela also said, according to the court paperwork, that he left the scene of the crash and that Mathis was in the car with their two children at the time.
Phoenix Police Department Commander Brian Issitt said while everyone is reminded of the tragedy of Taylor White’s death, “We’re also reminded today of the excellent police work that the Vehicular Crimes Unit, in conjunction with the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office, has done on this case. I couldn’t be more proud of the people that work for me and the conclusion of this case to bring justice to Taylor’s family.”
Phoenix Police Lt. Leif Myers said the department always had its eye on Favela and Mathis, and investigators felt as if they were on the cusp of breaking the case.
“We were always missing a couple of pieces, but with the advancement of technology and new witnesses that came forward, with that, it made a concrete case,” he said.
Angela said, “This is every parent’s worst nightmare, and for three years, knowing who was responsible for this and not being able to move forward with justice — we are so grateful to the Phoenix Police Department for their ongoing work.”
Myers would not expound on the technology used to break the case since it’s still under adjudication, but he said it is technology the department plans to use more extensively on future hit-and-run cases.
Phoenix has one of the highest rates of pedestrian deaths in the United States. One study, “Dangerous by Design 2019,” ranked Arizona’s 7th Congressional District, which includes a large portion of Phoenix, Glendale and Tolleson, as the worst in the country for pedestrian deaths.
“I know there was another hit and run just this last Sunday and they’re still looking for the individual that did that,” said Nate.
“Families shouldn’t need to go through what we’ve gone through the last three years,” added Angela. “There’s a better way. We can lessen this, all of us working together, so hopefully we can be advocates, moving forward, that put change in place, that use new technology, that enforce tougher penalties … and justice can be brought.”
Nate said he was speaking to one of his daughters this weekend. She broke down and asked, “Does this ever end?”
“It doesn’t ever end for us,” he said. “But today the process of justice starts. Today, the process of some closure, of somebody answering for a senseless crime.”
Angela said this tragedy in their lives hasn’t stopped them from answering God’s call to lead, though they “choose to lead broken.” That brokenness can’t ever be fully filled, she said, “but Jesus is the one that comes in and fills the broken places so we can keep moving forward.”
What comforts Taylor’s parents, who are so resolute in their faith, is remembering Taylor and how he lived life to the fullest, meeting every day with confidence.
GCU is honoring him with its Taylor White Mountain Mover Leadership Award, to be given annually to encourage those who choose to live outside the box and focus on authentic relationships.
“We believe these combinations create an individual who can move mountains with their strong personality and even stronger faith, just like Taylor White did,” said Schlundt.
Tedeschi said at a Celebration of Life ceremony in 2018 that “Taylor’s faith in Christ is what has honestly inspired me. Taylor was not afraid to die. He woke up every day and didn’t know what was around the corner but knew God would be with him at every step. And that’s how I have chosen to live my life from this day forward, knowing that every little thing that I do with my life means something.”
Nate echoed that faith in Christ and the power of forgiveness.
“We’ve forgiven Adrian and Tina for what they did. We have to, for the good of ourselves, because we cannot hold that. That doesn’t mean that they don’t need to pay for the consequences of what they’ve done,” he said.
“Forgiveness does not negate justice,” added Angela, the force of nature in her family despite the tragedy of losing Taylor. “The God who created us is a God of order and justice and mercy, so for those of you who are carrying the weight of something similar like this, walk in forgiveness. It is a daily decision, and it’s the best thing you can do for yourself and your life.”
GCU senior writer Lana Sweeten-Shults can be reached at [email protected] or at 602-639-7901.
GCU Today: Ceremony remembers those GCU has lost