The Patterson woman who struck a bicyclist and left him for dead along a Turlock road and then later told emergency dispatchers she thought she hit a dog, was sentenced Tuesday to one year in jail.
Vanessa Carrillo, 22, pled no contest to the felony charge of hit and run and a misdemeanor charge of vehicular manslaughter for the death of 27-year-old Patrick O’Connor on Sept. 1, 2010 on Fulkerth Road.
According to the California Highway Patrol, Carrillo was traveling between an approximate speed of 55 to 60 mph when her vehicle struck 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 O’Connor was pronounced dead at the scene.
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.
On Tuesday Stanislaus County Superior Court Judge Thomas Zeff sentenced Carrillo to three years in prison for the felony count and 365 days for the misdemeanor count. Under the plea agreement the sentence on the second count was stayed and instead of the prison term, Carrillo was given 365 days in jail and 60 months of formal probation.
The proceeding was the only opportunity for the family and friends of the victim to address the court and try and describe their pain at losing him and to implore the judge to impose the maximum sentence.
“We would like some justice,” said Patrick O’Connor’s friend Courtney Bennet. “His life meant something and so should the law.”
Numerous people spoke about Patrick’s charisma and the impact he had on their lives. Leading it off was Patrick’s father, Jim O’Connor, who spoke at length about the devastation Patrick’s death has caused.
“Losing a child is like someone reaching into the depths of your soul and ripping out your heart,” Jim O’Connor told the court.
The grieving father also took the opportunity to express his disappointment with a justice system he says has failed them at every turn.
In his statement, Jim O’Connor said the Stanislaus County District Attorney’s office was eager to reach a plea deal with Carrillo because if the case went to trial it “would open a can of worms for them.” Jim O’Connor said his private investigator found evidence that Carrillo called a sheriff’s deputy minutes after the collision and believes Carrillo, a criminal justice major, was given preferential treatment because of her relationship with a sheriff’s deputy.
“We are looking at your office for some accountability,” Jim O’Connor told the judge. “We need a sense of reassurance.”
Many who chose to speak at the proceedings described their frustration and anger with Carrillo and what they call an apparent lack of conscience and remorse.
“Vanessa Carrillo is an evil person,” Jim O’Connor said. “She is malicious, manipulative and a social misfit. She is a monster.”
That same sentiment was echoed by others during the proceeding.
Christopher O’Connor, Patrick’s oldest brother, told the court how he had been following Carrillo’s Twitter account and that he was appalled by some of the tweets that still seemed to show a disregard for safe driving habits, like putting on eyeliner while behind the wheel.
“She seems almost inhuman,” Christopher O’Connor said.
Carrillo sat at the defense table with her head bowed and her long hair hanging over her face. She kept her glasses off and did not look at the large picture of Patrick in the courtroom or the people who addressed their comments directly to her.
Carrillo’s defense attorney Melissa Adams read from a letter Carrillo wrote to the O’Connor family for inclusion in her probation report. Addressed “to whom it may concern,” Carrillo said she was sorry for the family’s loss and that the experience has caused her to fall into a “deep depression.”