Phoenix, AZ

Phoenix woman's survival story key to Pinal's domestic violence awareness initiative

Jeremy Beren

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Pitcher (middle) with members of MOMnation AZ.Courtesy of Sara Pitcher

By Jeremy Beren / NewsBreak Pinal County, AZ

Warning: This story contains graphic depictions of domestic violence including sexual assault.

(Florence, Ariz.) — The Phoenix woman whose story inspired the Pinal County Attorney's Office to launch its domestic abuse awareness program finally got some justice this week when the ex-husband who tried to kill her was sentenced to life in prison.

Sara Pitcher was nearly killed by ex-husband Shawn Spink four years ago when he stabbed, sexually assaulted and attempted to suffocate her before she escaped from his car in a McDonald's drive-through line.

On Tuesday, Spink was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole in 25 years, when he will be 72 years old.

"I'm so grateful that victory was served," Pitcher texted NewsBreak after the sentence was confirmed.

The 2018 incident inspired the county to hold its Paint Pinal Purple initiative in October and co-sponsor the Domestic Violence Awareness Walk & Family Day on Oct. 15, according to Pinal County Attorney’s Office community liaison Latisha Joseph.

"(Sara) is a personal friend of mine who's coming to tell her story," Joseph told NewsBreak via phone. "It's quite impactful for people to hear that these things do happen."

Sara Pitcher's story

Pitcher met Spink in 2013 and described him to NewsBreak as "charming," and a man who "said all the right things."

But after the couple was married, Pitcher said Spink changed almost overnight.

"He became really possessive (and) controlling," Pitcher said via phone. "He didn't want me doing things without him, (even) going to the grocery store with my mom. ... I stayed a lot longer than I should have."

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Pitcher with her ex-husband, Shawn Spink.Courtesy of Sara Pitcher

Spink and Pitcher during their marriage.Courtesy of Sara Pitcher

The couple's marriage dissolved after unsuccessful counseling, and Pitcher left Spink and their home in Indianapolis for one in Phoenix. She lost 80 pounds in 2017, and was excited about starting a new life.

But Spink eventually followed Pitcher to Arizona and discovered her address, after which he began stalking and threatening her.

The attack

On the morning of Sept. 15, 2018, Pitcher opened her front door to take her dog for a walk. Spink was waiting, having already memorized her routine.

"He was standing there with a can of Raid," she said. "He pushed me back into the house, he got on top of me, (and) he put his fingers in my eyes and my mouth. I was screaming (and) yelling. He took his sock off and put his sock in my mouth. He dragged me into the living room, and he told me he had been watching me for over two weeks and that if he couldn't have me, nobody could."

Spink then took Pitcher into the bedroom and put a garbage bag over her head before stabbing her in the face and raping her. The tip of the knife sliced into the optic nerve in Pitcher's right eye. She can open and move the eye four years after the assault, but she cannot see out of it.

After Spink told her he would kill himself by driving his Ford Flex "off a cliff," Pitcher decided to try a new approach.

"I finally was able to convince him that everything I had been saying and doing on social media was all a show and I was very unhappy," she said.

Pitcher was then able to convince Spink to stop at a McDonald's near the Tramonto neighborhood where she lived, so that they could eat ice cream one last time before dying together.

"(I told him) I missed him dearly and wanted to go die with him, (that) we'd drive off a cliff together and be together forever,” she said.

Spink and Pitcher left the house in Spink’s Ford Flex. When they reached the drive-thru line, Pitcher — bloodied and donning a cap to hide the stab wound under her eye — spotted a group of people gathering in the parking lot. She knew that was her chance to escape.

"I went to open the door and it was locked. He grabbed my wrist and said, 'I knew you were going to try something,'" Pitcher said. "I was able to get free and I ran into the crowd and screamed 'Help! I've been raped!' He sped off. Two guys got in their vehicle and ran after him. He got on I-17 heading north."

Hours later, Spink was apprehended in Black Canyon City and taken to the Lower Buckeye Jail. A jury last month found him guilty on all charges: three counts of aggravated assault, attempted first-degree murder, sexual assault, kidnapping, and unlawful use of means of transportation.

“There is hope”

Following sentencing on Tuesday, Pitcher told NewsBreak that she can "finally rest now."

In addition to her work as a health coach, Pitcher plans to continue channeling her energy into a new nonprofit designed to educate women not only on what a healthy relationship looks like, but where the red flags in an unhealthy relationship can be spotted.

“There are so many women who don’t know what a healthy relationship is, who have never experienced that … people who are in domestic violence situations have pretty much had everything taken away,” she said.

Pitcher is also a member of MOMnation's Arizona branch, where she met Latisha Joseph and encountered a support group that she says has helped her tremendously.

"I'm grateful to everyone for the support and the love that has been shown over the last four years,” Pitcher said Tuesday via text. “Now we have a mission to help others get out of similar situations and know (that) there is hope."

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Jeremy is a freelance journalist covering health, energy, labor, and local politics. Reach him at jeremy.beren@newsbreak.com.

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