At just after 7.00pm on a hot, clear September evening last year, 27-year-old Patrick O’Conner was riding his bike west on Fulkerth Road in Turlock when he was struck from behind by a 1999 Toyota traveling at 55mph. The force of the impact threw Patrick off his bike, causing him to suffer severe and ultimately fatal injuries. The driver of the Toyota, Vanessa Carrillo, reportedly paused momentarily before speeding away from the scene, leaving Patrick to die in the road.
The 21-year-old Carrillo continued driving until she reached her home in Patterson, a few minutes west of Turlock. Upon arriving, she waited for an hour before telephoning 911 to report that she thought she may have hit a dog in the road.
After further questioning, Carrillo divulged that, in fact, she realized she had hit a person when she saw the body lying in the road behind her.
But it wasn’t until December 22nd, more than three months after Patrick’s death, that an arrest warrant was finally issued in the case. Carrillo was charged with Felony Hit and Run, and Vehicular Manslaughter without Gross Negligence, which is a misdemeanor.
But in the weeks immediately following the accident, in the midst of his grief at the sudden violent loss of his son, Patrick’s father, Jim O’Conner recognized that something wasn’t right. Why hadn’t the driver who killed Patrick been arrested or charged? On October 6th, a month after the accident, O’Conner wrote to the Department of Justice questioning why, despite her own admission of responsibility, Vanessa Carrillo was still free.
He was particularly dismayed by what he felt was a “cavalier attitude and lack of action” shown by assistant District Attorney, John R. Mayne, whom Jim O’Conner had expected would pursue more serious charges against Carrillo. Angry and frustrated, O’Conner researched the criminal history of Vanessa Carrillo, and discovered four recent convictions for moving traffic violations in Stanislaus County. Notably, Carrillo had been convicted twice of driving at unsafe speeds, a pattern of behavior which witnesses claim may also have been a major factor in the death of Patrick O’Conner. Carrillo’s last conviction for speeding occurred less than a year before she hit Patrick with her car.
Jim O’Conner claims that, in a phone conversation he had with Mayne, the assistant DA stated “that he was aware of Vanessa Carrillo’s driving history, and of this Vehicular Manslaughter case”. O’Conner went on to express his frustration that Carrillo had not been detained or charged, adding that he hoped the case would receive immediate review.
Shortly after Carrillo was finally arrested in December, Jim O’Conner met with the Stanislaus County District Attorney, Birgit Fladager. In the meeting, he expressed his consternation at the formal charges, which he and his family felt did not accurately reflect the severity of the crime.
O’Conner suggested that he thought Carrillo should face charges of Second Degree Murder with Implied Malice, a more serious charge which involves an “unintentional killing caused by extremely reckless behavior”. Specifically, the Implied Malice contingent assumes that “the defendant knew about the danger of the acts (in this case reckless driving), yet consciously and deliberately disregarded the danger to human life”. According to Jim O’Conner, Mayne refused to consider the more serious charge of Implied Malice in the death of Patrick.
The program given out at Patrick O’Conner’s memorial in September shows several pictures of a handsome, athletic young man with a disarming smile. The services, one in Northridge where he was born, and one in Sacramento, where he lived and worked as a tax consultant, were attended by friends of Patrick from all over the country. The assembled mourners reflected upon a promising life cut short, and a warm personality who would be terribly missed.
As Jim O’Conner revealed in an email to Talking Treads:
“Pat had a lot of great friends in Sacramento. He loved that city and had many friends there. He was training for the Iron Man competition.”
Vanessa Carrillo is due to be arraigned on 3rd March in Stanislaus County.