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Frustration mounts for family of slain cyclist

Driver facing felony, misdemeanor charges

Frustration mounts for family of slain cyclist

Patrick O'Connor was in training for an Iron Man competition when he was hit and killed by Vanessa Carrillo's car in September 2010.


POSTED March 1, 2011 10:50 p.m.

Charges have been filed against the Patterson woman, who authorities say struck and killed a bicyclist traveling along a country road in Turlock.

Several months after the fatal encounter, the Stanislaus County District Attorney’s Office filed charges of felony hit and run with injury and misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter against Vanessa Carrillo, 21, in the death of Patrick O’Connor.

Carrillo is scheduled for an arraignment on the charges on Thursday in Stanislaus County Superior Court.

Carrillo’s arrest and the subsequent charges against her have topped off months of frustration and anger for Patrick O’Connor’s family and friends, who questioned why it took so long for charges to be filed.

“The emotional roller coaster has been hard to take,” said Patrick’s father Jim O’Connor. “Why wasn’t she arrested that night?”

Patrick O’Connor was a 27-year-old tax consultant with a bright future ahead of him. The Northridge native and Sacramento transplant was known for his warm personality and his unwavering integrity.

“Patrick had a natural charisma and a smile that instilled confidence,” his father recalled.

A natural athlete, Patrick O’Connor was in training for an Iron Man competition and decided to get in a bike ride during his brief visit to Turlock while working on a project for Foster Farms.

Riding out on Fulkerth Road, Patrick O’Connor left the city behind him and was surrounded by grassy fields and orchards as he pedaled further out into the countryside on a warm first day of September of last year.

He may never even have been aware of the Toyota Corolla rapidly approaching from behind.

According to the California Highway Patrol, Carrillo was traveling between an approximate speed of 55 to 60 mph when her vehicle struck Patrick O’Connor from behind. The impact sent the 27-year-old tumbling over the front end of the car and onto the pavement. The injuries he sustained proved fatal and Patrick O’Connor was pronounced dead at the scene.

The CHP report states Carrillo made no effort to stop prior to the collision. She did stop about 150 feet away from the point of impact before driving away.

The sound of the crash caught the attention of a nearby resident standing outside his home with his children. The witness turned to where the sound came from and saw a white vehicle speeding down the road. Looking a little further down the road, the man’s eyes fell on a crumpled figure lying in the middle of the road.

He quickly called 911 and his neighbor who lived further down Fulkerth and told him to be on the lookout for a white car. The second witness made it out of his home just in time to see a white car go speeding by. The witness was able to get a partial license plate number and told the CHP investigators he could see damage to the vehicle and the driver was talking on a cell phone as she passed.

Carrillo drove to her mother’s house in Patterson and about an hour after the collision she called 911 and told them she had hit something and that she believed it was a dog.

When CHP officers arrived at the Patterson home they saw the Toyota Corolla and noticed that it had significant front end damage, including a missing portion of the front bumper, a deep indent in the hood and a broken windshield. Upon a closer look they could see blood and hair on the roof on the car, according to the report.

In her initial statement to the CHP, Carrillo said she was traveling on Fulkerth and saw a black figure but that the sun was in her eyes and then she felt and heard the impact.

She said she stopped about 150 feet away and looking through her rear view mirror, she saw a black figure in the road. Carrillo told the CHP she called her mother and told her that she had just hit something. Her mother advised her to stay there, but Carrillo said she panicked and fled the scene.

She told the officers she was not distracted prior to the collision and that she had not been using a cell phone at the time.

Upon further questioning, Carrillo changed a portion of her story, saying she had returned to the scene and saw the emergency vehicle and then went home and called 911.

The CHP report mentions no alcohol or drug test given to Carrillo that day and no arrest was made at that time.

According to court records, Carrillo has had multiple traffic violations, including a recent one for driving at an unsafe speed.

The CHP investigators recommended that Carrillo be charged with involuntary vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence and felony hit and run. The district attorney’s office opted to charge Carrillo with felony hit and run and a misdemeanor charge of vehicular manslaughter — a decision that has frustrated the O’Connor family.

“We ask civil servants for accountability and justice and they interpret the laws as they see fit,” Jim O’Connor said. “The assumption is that if you hit and kill someone and leave the crime that you should be held more accountable than a misdemeanor.”

When a month had passed since the death of Patrick O’Connor and no charges had been filed, Jim O’Connor and his family began to recruit friends and family members to continually call and write the district attorney’s office — all in an effort to seek justice for their son, Jim O’Connor said.

Jim O’Connor said he felt the prosecution was being “flippant and cavalier” when he questioned the status of the case and that the family has been exasperated by the responses they were given.

“We have been told one thing only to learn that the truth was something else entirely,” he said. “Trust has been one of the factors we’ve been questioning when it comes to them.”

To contact Sabra Stafford, e-mail sstafford@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2002.

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