A memorial service for a 9-year-old Hamilton boy who died Sunday following a hit-and-run crash has been set for 11 a.m. Thursday at the Hamilton Middle School.
Robert Leonardi was struck and killed — allegedly by a vehicle traveling at nearly double the 35-mph speed limit — as he attempted to cross Golf Course Road in Hamilton shortly before 1 p.m.
The Hamilton School District has set up a memorial to Leonardi at the Daly Elementary School across the street from district’s administrative building. The Daly Mustangs Facebook page encourages friends of Leonardi to bring flowers, pictures and letters to the location day or night.
“An amazing young boy in Robert Leonardi has left us far too soon,” the Facebook post read. “His passing has left an enormous hole in our hearts. … As a community, we remember together and grieve together.”
A chalkboard at the memorial read: “Robert, your bright smile, personality, and joyful laughter will be deeply missed. We will be playing baseball with you. Spread your wings now and know how much you’re loved. Rest in peace angel.”
Corvallis School District Superintendent Tim Johnson said the district is coordinating meals and other assistance for Leonardi’s parents, Phil and Alyce, both longtime Corvallis high school teachers.
“Corvallis is a close-knit community and the tragic loss of life affecting the Leonardi family has rippled through our district and certainly the entire Bitterroot Valley,” Johnson said. “Emotions are raw and our focus is supporting the Leonardis as best we can through this seemingly impossible reality. Please pray for healing.”
Joseph John McNamara, 59, of Hamilton was charged Monday with negligent homicide and a misdemeanor count of failure to remain at an accident scene where a person was injured.
According to Ravalli County Deputy Attorney Angela Wetzsteon’s charging affidavit, Leonardi was hit near the intersection of Golf Course Road and South Crest Road as he tried to cross the road with his scooter.
A witness said the driver of the tan passenger van that struck Leonardi got out of the van and approached the boy. Leonardi’s father immediately ran from their nearby home to help his son.
Leonardi’s father handed his cell hone to McNamara and directed him to call 911. The affidavit said McNamara said he needed to move his vehicle, kept the father’s phone and drove away, heading east at a high rate of speed.
McNamara never returned to the crash scene.
The witness used his own cellphone to take a photo of the van, including its license plate. The Montana plate numbers showed the van registered to McNamara.
As McNamara was fleeing, another motorist took note of the van due its high rate of speed. After seeing the crash scene, the motorist immediately turned around in an attempt to locate the van, which he did under some tree cover farther east on Golf Course Road.
The motorist spoke to McNamara, who claimed he had seen the driver who struck the boy and that driver had been picked up and fled in a Monte Carlo, according to the affidavit. A Forest Service officer arrived on the scene a short time later, but McNamara had run away.
The officer spoke with McNamara’s “on-again, off-again” girlfriend who lived at the location where the van was located. She initially said that McNamara had told her that he wasn’t involved in a crash, but had seen the driver get into a Monte Carlo and drive away.
When the officer told the woman a child had died as a result of the crash, she quickly told the officer that she had been with McNamara prior to the incident at the Rotary Park day use area, where the two had quarreled.
She left the park to drive home and was still inside her vehicle talking on the phone when McNamara arrived in his van. The woman said McNamara asked her for a ride after telling her he had hit something. She refused to give him a ride. McNamara left on foot behind the home.
Following a 5½-hour search, McNamara was arrested at a home in Hamilton.
The affidavit said McNamara told two people who gave him a ride that he had been held at gunpoint while driving his vehicle and had left the scene because he was being threatened with a gun. After being arrested, McNamara continued to claim that he been held at gunpoint in his vehicle.
No witness from the scene reported another occupant in the vehicle, nor did any photograph show anyone in the van, the affidavit said.
When a Montana Highway Patrol trooper asked McNamara to submit a blood test for analysis, he refused and claimed he had “smoked something” after the crash. When the trooper said he intended to obtain a search warrant for McNamara’s blood, the affidavit said McNamara responded: “After I hit that kid, you have enough charges to lock me up for life.”
Ravalli County Justice Jennifer Ray set bail at $500,000. McNamara remained in the county detention center Tuesday.
McNamara was arrested in November in Ravalli County on a fugitive-from-justice warrant from Norristown, Pennsylvania, where court records said he had pleaded guilty to a theft charge. The warrant was dismissed in December after the state of Pennsylvania said it did not plan to extradite him.