VAFB Airman killed in hit-and-run was lying in road before crash

Bus driver "unable to avoid striking the person"

VAFB Airman killed in hitandrun was...

SANTA BARBARA COUNTY, Calif. - Officials with Vandenberg Air Force Base and the California Highway Patrol are shedding some light on what was initially called a hit-and-run early Monday morning.

It's unclear why Airman First Class Tyler Leidholdt was last seen lying in the right hand lane of Highway One near Timber Lane.

"Around 5:25 in the morning when he noticed a disabled vehicle on the side of the road and was reaching to call that in, like a crash vehicle or disabled, then he noticed something, an object in the roadway and was not able to swerve because the passengers were aboard," said Mark Van De Kamp, Public Information Officer with the City of Santa Maria.

The bus driver, 60-year-old Manuel Ortiz Jr had no choice but to run over the Airman.

CHP officers pronounced the 24-year-old dead on the scene.

"He was unable to avoid striking the person, turns out who is in the roadway, but he did pull over right away he called it in and was later commended by the CHP for doing the right thing," said Van De Kamp.

Investigators don't believe the bus driver is at fault.

"The driver is a contract employee for First Transit that is contracted by the City of Santa Maria.  It was a Breeze Bus, which is a regional bus service and the driver was on his usual morning route," said Van De Kamp.

Facebook posts from grieving family and friends indicate that Leidholdt leaves behind a pregnant wife. 

The California native had been at Vandenberg since May of last year and in the U.S. Air Force for a year and a half.

"We definitely want to say that we regret what happened.  It's very unfortunate for the victim and his family and friends and the city feels badly that this occurred," said Van De Kamp.

Despite the tragedy, city leaders have no plans to change service.

"It basically proves that the city's protocols are good for testing for drivers ," said Van De Kamp.

Following protocol, Ortiz was drug tested after the incident and he passed.  It's unclear if he's still driving at this time.

A vigil will be held Wednesday in Lakewood, CA and Vandenberg officials say a memorial will be held at a later date.


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