When San Manuel resident David Mota shot and killed Joshua Switalski during a traffic altercation last February in Oro Valley, he was working as a behavioral health counselor for youth.
That information, along with a clearer picture of Mota’s itinerary the night of Feb. 28, 2013, was revealed by Mota during a recorded interrogation with Oro Valley Police Department Detective Mike Cruce on the night of the shooting.
In the interrogation, after answering a series of questions leading up to his discharging of two .45 caliber bullets on Oracle Road near Pusch View Lane, Mota appears genuinely surprised – and upset – when detectives tell him that one of those bullets was responsible for killing Switalski.
“I feel bad,” said Mota, who appeared to be crying in the recording. “It was a big mistake.”
Mota then asks, “How long will I be in jail?” and makes mention that his young daughter is going to grow up without him.
The footage caused Mota’s girlfriend to leave the courtroom in tears, much like Switalski’s girlfriend and mother did the day prior when hearing an audio recording of officers attempting to resuscitate Switalski after the shooting.
In such an emotional case, the jury will be put to the decision in coming days – based only on the facts – as to whether or not Mota deserves to go to prison on counts of first degree murder, aggravated assault, and drive by shooting.
Many of those facts were presented during the interrogation recording, in which Mota reveals the series of events that led up to Switalski’s death.
Mota tells Cruce that earlier in the day, driving his Chevy Silverado, he met friend Daniel Fehr at a north-side Wal-Mart to help Fehr’s father transport household accessories. From there, Mota, Fehr, and Fehr’s father and brother traveled to a nearby Hooters. Mota claims while there he had one beer and some food, while Fehr, he thinks, had two beers.
Mota then drove Fehr to Sears at the Tucson Mall to have a vehicular repair done. While waiting on the repair, Mota and Fehr walked to Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar and Grill, where Mota said he had three whiskey and cokes, and that Fehr had numerous beers.
After picking up the vehicle from Sears, the two began driving back to San Manuel, using the route of Oracle Road.
While in the interrogation, Mota is heard saying, “I shouldn’t have been driving,” though defense attorney Natasha Wrae attempted to diminish the effect that alcohol may have had in Mota’s decision making skills at the time of the shooting by pointing out that at the time her client’s blood alcohol level was tested, the reading was .000.
Fehr’s blood alcohol level was a .18, according to Cruce, who administered both tests at approximately 2 a.m. – more than six hours after the shooting took place.
While the prosecution didn’t make a hard push to prove Mota was intoxicated at the time of the shooting, it did rely on its first witness, criminalist and firearms/tool mark expert Aaron Brudenell, to reveal some key information.
According to Brudenell, the two slugs that were fired and removed from the scene – one from Switalski’s car door, and the other from Switalski himself – proved to come from Mota’s .45 caliber handgun.
The bullets used were jacketed hollow points, which according to Brudenell, expand when hitting a soft target.
Upon examination, Brudenell said one of the bullets showed traces of a white powder indicative of passing through glass. The same bullet also had red paint on it.
The prosecution has attempted to show in the first three days of the trial that Switalski, driving a red Pontiac sedan, had begun rolling his window up after the verbal altercation with Mota.
Brudenell said that based on a trajectory study, it was also his estimation that Switalski’s vehicle was positioned ahead of Mota’s, an important piece of evidence for the prosecution since it could show that Switalski was driving away from conflict.
Also of note was the fact that the second bullet showed traces of tempered glass, similar to what would be found on a vehicle’s side mirror.
In photographs taken of Mota’s truck after the shooting, it is apparent that one bullet went directly through the passenger side mirror.
That mirror has also been a point of contention – the prosecution claiming Fehr attempted to punch it off to rid the evidence.
In the interrogation video, Mota admits that Fehr punched the side mirror shortly after the shooting occurred, though he doesn’t say much else as to why.
At this point in the case, the ultimate decision that must be made by the jury is not whether evidence was tampered with, or even if Mota fired the round that killed Switalski (he has admitted numerous times he did), but why he fired them.
Defense attorney Natasha Wrae, referencing Mota’s interrogation, pointed out that more than once Mota says he was afraid during the verbal altercation, in which Switalski was said to have used racial slurs and curse words.
“It seemed like they were going to do something, so I pulled out my gun… I just reacted,” Mota said in the footage, adding that he was attempting to shoot behind the vehicle.
Cruce later asks Mota if he knew there were people in the car, if he aimed the gun at the car, and if he intentionally discharged it, to which Mota answers yes.
The defense called Cruce’s question an “interrogation technique” which took away from the fact that Mota had already indicated he intended to shoot behind the vehicle.
Mota is left-handed. He fired both shots using his right hand.
That didn’t change the opinion of Cruce when asked by Wrae his opinion as to whether the shooting was the result of road rage.
“I don’t categorize this as road rage – this was much more than road rage,” said Cruce.
Mota had two individuals appear in court as character witnesses.
Longtime friend and correctional officer George Quijada said Mota was “not violent,” and was “very honest.”
San Manuel School District teacher Isabel Austin said in the long time she has known Mota, he has been a “peaceful” person.
The trial will resume on Tuesday morning.