The late Martha Hilts, second from left, took this photo of herself and her family, including her 8-year-old son and 12-year-old daughter and husband Chris.
Special to AFN

A shaken Ahwatukee community is rallying around the family of a devoted Lakewood mother of two and active volunteer who was killed by an alleged drunk driver while on her regular early morning jog near her home last week.

Martha Hilts, 36, was killed after a car struck her, apparently from behind, while jogging on the sidewalk along Lakewood Loop around 4:30 a.m. Nov. 2.

The driver, Shannon Marie Scott, 25, also of Lakewood, was arrested on a felony charge of reckless manslaughter after police say her blood-alcohol level was .08 – exactly at the minimum for a drunk-driving determination.

The arrest report said that besides the defendant showing “signs and symptoms of alcohol impairment,” police detected “a strong odor of marijuana” in her car. Relatives said police estimate the car was traveling at 40 m.p.h. when it struck the victim, throwing her 75 feet.

The car also hit a cement garbage receptacle and a palm tree, police said. Scott was booked into jail on a $25,000 bond.

Friends, neighbors and strangers from Ahwatukee, two schools, a church and the running community immediately rose to help Mrs. Hilts’ husband, Chris, and their two children, Jessica, 12, and Anthony, 8, while mourning her passing.

The family has been living in Ahwatukee since 2006.

Friends and acquaintances set up a fundraiser, a drive to collect restaurant gift cards and a request for donations on youcaring.com that so far has raised about half of a $25,000 goal. The site is at youcaring.com/chrisjessicaandanthonyhilts-998863.

“Martha was the center and the strength of her family.  Many will miss her kindness and generosity,” friends posted on youcaring.com. “Martha was an awesome wife and mom and cannot be replaced.  But we can pass on her love by helping the Hilts family.”

A viewing is scheduled 4-8 p.m. today, Nov. 8, at Restoration Community Center, 374 N. Hamilton Ave., Chandler.

Because Mrs. Hilts was considered the family matriarch who organized many family gatherings, friends and neighbors have other private gatherings planned.

Mrs. Hilts worked at Pacific Scientific Energetic Materials Co. in Chandler, where employees posted remembrances of her as “a great person and a hard worker” known for “her integrity, kindness, always able to get everything done and never ever with a mean thought or word.”

Company officials did not return calls for comment.  

At two Ahwatukee schools, as well as in her neighborhood and her church, Mrs. Hilts was well known and beloved. News of her death prompted expressions of deep sorrow and fond appreciation.

Mrs. Hilts was active at Mountain Park Community Church with the children’s ministry and in several volunteer efforts that help the homeless.

Neighbor Avon Ropke, who with her husband, Chad, set up the youcaring.com site, and Angie Klein, another friend, described her as a tireless worker in homeless outreach programs.

She would sometimes wait on homeless families who were invited to spend the night at Mountain Park, serving them food and tending to their other needs.

Ropke said Mrs. Hilts grew up in an impoverished Mexican area but eventually moved to Chandler.

“It was a very poor area and I think she felt called to help the homeless because of that,” she said.

“She was always very, very humble, super-understated and not one of those ‘look at me’ people,” said Klein.

Added Ropke: “She had a very supportive, loving husband who supported all her activities.”

And one member of the Mountain Park Community congregation said her husband would miss Mrs. Hilts “as he saw her smiling face every Sunday helping out in children’s ministry.”

Ropke also recalled Mrs. Hilts as a devoted mother who “was always concerned about academics” where her children were concerned.

But even with her busy home outside life, Mrs. Hilts also was pursuing her associate’s degree in business administration at Chandler-Gilbert Community College. She was planning to graduate next spring.

The parent-teacher organizations at both Lagos Elementary, where her son attends school, and Akimel A-al Middle School, where her daughter is a student, reacted quickly to the news of Mrs. Hilts’ death.

Stella Klecka Lorenz of the Akimel PTO said both her group and the Lagos PTO have set up an account at Dream Dinners of Ahwatukee for anyone who wants to donate for meals sent to the family’s home for the next six months.

Dream Dinners will provide meals of the family’s choice assembled fresh and delivered each month. Donations are being accepted at the Lagos front office, at the Dream Dinners location or can be ordered online. Donations are being accepted by credit card by emailing contact info to tracy.zipay@dreamdinners.com.

Drop-off donations are being accepted as cash, checks payable to Dream Dinners, and credit card to Dream Dinners at 3820 E. Ray Road #28 9 a.m.- 3 p.m. Saturdays and 5-8 p.m. Wednesdays through Nov. 18. Information: 480-704-5312.

A memorial run in Mrs. Hilts’ honor will begin at Lagos Elementary, 17001 S. 34th Way, Ahwatukee, at 7 a.m. Sunday, Nov. 12. The run will traverse the entire approximately 2.5-mile Lakewood Loop that Mrs. Hilts ran nearly every morning before she got ready for work and got her children off to school.

Neighbors and runners also paid tribute to Mrs. Hilts, some admitting they knew her only from jogging on Lakewood Loop.

One woman said her daughter knew the victim’s daughter and donated all her allowance to help the family.

Organizers of the memorial run said, “This tragedy has deeply touched the running community, and this is a simple way for us to come together to demonstrate our support for her family.”

“I feel like I knew her…every run included seeing and running by Martha. Every run. I am devastated,” one Lakewood jogger wrote on Facebook, stating he and Mrs. Hilts were members of the “4:30 a.m. club at Lakewood.”

Mrs. Hilts’ father-in-law and her husband went to the accident scene, where a memorial of flowers and other items quickly was erected. Her father-in-law was quoted by one TV news station as saying, “We cry about it every 30 minutes, and that’s about all we can do and pray. We came here to do our prayers.”

Ahwatukee runner Lori Worachek created a “Medals for Martha” campaign for all marathon runners.

“I met Martha’s husband and kids today while I was on my run,” said Worachek, who wrote Mrs. Hilts’ name on the back of both her calves for last weekend’s marathon.

“He told me that Martha ran an hour every day. I told him I am running the Phoenix Half Marathon this weekend and would it be OK if I gave my medal to his daughter who also loves running. He said his daughter would absolutely love that.

“Then I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could round up a bunch of medals to give this little girl? .. Anyone running in those races can donate their medal and we can deliver the pile of medals to this precious family.”

Worachek added: “Thank you, Ahwatukee for your loving heart.”

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