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Fatal Crash on Morning Mission : Sharing Friend's Duty Is Final Act for Priest

January 04, 1987|DAVID HALDANE | Times Staff Writer

Father Matthew Patrick Tully did a favor for a friend early New Year's morning and it cost him his life.

A Catholic priest and chaplain at Valley Medical Center in Fresno, he answered a 1:30 a.m. call for a fellow priest to administer last rites to a dying patient. En route, Tully, 31, was broadsided by a hit-and-run driver who fled the scene on foot.

Taken to the hospital he had served as chaplain for three years, the priest died 17 hours later without regaining consciousness after receiving last rites from the priest he had substituted for.

"It should have been me," Father James Harrington said in an interview Saturday. "I never heard the telephone."

Fresno police Saturday took into custody a man they said had walked in and asked to be arrested for the crime. Booked on suspicion of felony hit and run and vehicular manslaughter was Alejandro Martinez, 25, of Fresno. "We are continuing our investigation" as to whether alcohol was involved, said Lt. Jerry Davis.

A Shared Responsibility

It was to make life easier that Tully, Harrington and a third priest who lived with them had initiated a rotation system under which each week only one was responsible for emergency calls while the other two rested. Last week was not Tully's turn.

In recent years, according to those who knew him, the young priest from Orange County had exhibited a special interest in the problems of the dying. So sometime after midnight, when the call concerning a dying patient came in, Tully took it himself rather than wake Harrington, who had already gone to bed.

That generous spirit was remembered Saturday while preparations were under way for a memorial service scheduled for 6 p.m. today at St. Francis of Assisi Church in Los Angeles. From 1981 to 1983, Tully was an associate pastor at the church, where he ministered to the Spanish-speaking community and served as spiritual director of youth groups.

Learned Mexican Culture

"He did a very good job," said Ramon Posada, the parish's youth representative. "He was always very approachable and people felt comfortable with him."

Although Spanish was not Tully's native tongue, Posada said, the young priest had spent a summer in Mexico studying that country's language and culture. "Everyone (in the Latino community) saw him as their representative," he said. "His ability to work with Hispanics will be a great loss to the church in general."

Described by friends as easy going, an active jogger and a lover of the outdoors, Tully was born and raised in Santa Ana where he graduated from Mater Dei High School in 1973. Family and friends there are planning a memorial mass for noon Monday at Holy Family Cathedral in Orange, followed by burial Tuesday at San Lorenzo Seminary in Santa Ynez.

"He was the nicest guy in the world," said Matt Zehner of Fullerton, Tully's brother-in-law. "He could talk to anyone."

Added Harrington: "He was a generous guy."

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