In a 911 recording played during day one of the trial of David Arnold Mota – the man charged with shooting and killing 22-year-old Joshua Switalski in a road rage case in Oro Valley – Switalski’s girlfriend, April Taylor, can be heard frantically yelling, “Oh my God, he’s been shot… Josh, stay with me.”
The phone call was made the evening of Feb. 28, 2013, a night that was supposed to include a celebratory dinner at an Oro Valley Olive Garden.
“I had just gotten a job I’d been trying to get after graduating beauty school,” Taylor, now 22 years old, told criminal prosecutor Bruce Chalk during questioning. “He (Joshua) told me, ‘As soon as I get off work, I’m going to pick you up, and we’re going to go out, and we’re going to celebrate.’”
Just miles shy of their destination, prosecutors on Tuesday afternoon alleged that Switalski and Taylor, in a Pontiac Grand AM, were cut off by Mota, who along with a passenger, were traveling in a Chevy Silverado on Oracle Road near Pusch View Lane.
A verbal altercation ensued, which ultimately resulted in Mota drawing a .45 caliber handgun and firing twice in the direction of Switalski’s vehicle. One of those bullets lodged in Switalski’s door, while the other ricocheted off the vehicle and perforated Switalski’s lung and heart.
Switalski was transported to an area hospital soon thereafter, but died from his wounds.
In its opening statement, the prosecution portrayed the incident as an aggressive, intentional act from the defendant - attorney Rona Kreamer saying Mota was responsible for “cutting Joshua Switalski off in traffic, and then cutting off Joshua Switalski’s life.”
Prosecutors also highlighted the fact that Mota confessed to responding officers that he shot in the direction of Switalski’s vehicle.
Two additional guns were found in Mota’s truck when searched.
Kreamer encouraged the jury to find Mota guilty on each of three charges filed, to include first degree murder, drive by shooting, and aggravated assault.
In the defense’s opening statement, attorney Natasha Wrae relied primarily on the argument that Switalski was the aggressor in the incident and that it was “shoot or be shot” for her client.
“It’s not David’s rage,” said Wrae. “It’s Josh Switalski’s rage. David is scared. He sees his face. Josh is angry. He’s got a shaved head, and he’s Caucasian, and he’s getting these racial slurs thrown at him, and he panics.”
According to Wrae, her client fired his weapon because he saw Switalski reaching for something – a claim which Taylor later refuted from the witness stand. She said Switalski never reached for anything, nor were there any weapons in the car other than a pocketknife, which never left his pocket.
Anticipating the defense’s strategy, Kreamer preemptively shot down Wrae's argument in her opening statement, saying Switalski’s actions should not have resulted in his death.
“They were just words, and words alone are not enough to justify shooting someone,” she said, also pointing out that at the time of the shooting, Switalski had already begun driving away from Mota.
In an effort to appeal to the emotions of the jury, the defense painted Mota as a respectful young man from the small town of San Manuel who is “not savvy to the ways of the world.” He had also discovered shortly before the shooting incident that his grandfather had passed away, said Wrae.
But it was Taylor’s testimony that emotionally shook many of those present, which included several of Joshua’s family members.
When asked to describe what she liked about him, Taylor’s response brought many to tears.
“Everything,” she said, crying. “He was perfect. He was my best friend.”
The trial will resume at the Arizona Superior Court of Pima County on Wednesday morning at 10:30 a.m., and is expected to last six days.
Mota entered a not guilty plea last April.