Stacy Kline, OCBC Board Member, was riding a few miles behind Matthew O’Neill when he was killed on Foxen Canyon Rd. The motorist, the 16 year old son of former Lt. Governor, Abel Maldonado, failed to yield when overtaking Matthew on an open stretch of a quiet, rural highway. Immediately following Matthew’s death, a campaign was started to explain to motorists why they should change lanes when passing a cyclist, and to amend the “Three Feet for Safety Act” to allow motorists to cross a solid yellow center line to pass a cyclist.
Stacy wrote this piece encouraging concerned citizens to submit Victim Witness Statements on Matthew’s behalf.
The preliminary hearing for the motorist who killed Matthew was held this past Friday. The case is in juvenile court which has different procedures than an adult criminal proceeding. On their way home to San Diego after the hearing, I spoke with Matthew’s parents about the case, and they mentioned that the court is now accepting Victim Impact Statements.
At this stage in the case, the Probation Department is charged with recommending formal or informal probation. The family and friends of Matthew feel that it is important that the defendant be given formal probation. For a charge of this magnitude, vehicular manslaughter, formal probation is the only option that will help bring closure to the family and friends of Matthew O’Neill. While informal probation is akin to a “slap on the wrist” and may simply give a message that says “don’t do it again,” formal probation is a structured program requiring regular contact with a probation officer and monitored activities such as community service which could include speaking to other young people about the serious consequences of poor judgement while driving. Without formal probation, it may be difficult to get the defendant arraigned (formally charged).
The O’Neill family strongly believes that Matthew’s death must have meaning beyond the loss of a beloved son, brother, fiancé, and friend. A ruling of delinquency in this case will send the message that killing a bicyclist carries a serious consequence. A ruling of delinquency in this case will set a precedent that more serious charges are warranted when a cyclist is killed due to the fault of a motorist. A ruling of delinquency in this case can serve as a deterrent to motorists who will think then think about the consequences of their actions before they pass a cyclist on the road.
To help the O’Neill family, it is important that the probation department receive as many Victim Impact Statements as possible, and as soon as possible, describing the impact Matthew O’Neill had on the lives of others. Letters are needed that describe Matthew’s cycling passion, concern for the success of other cyclists, contributions to the randonneuring community, continued quest for knowledge, love of lifelong learning, advocacy for those who could not advocate for themselves, and, above all, Matthew’s commitment to live life in the service of others.
Please email your letters to Terri Zuniga, the supervisor of the Victim Witness Program. Terri will deliver the emails to the probation department on Matthew’s behalf.
Victim Witness Program Supervisor
tzuniga (at) co.santa-barbara.ca.usThis is the first step in changing the narrative about what it means to be a motorist. Real enforcement and meaningful penalties can make a real difference in making the roads safer for all road users, especially the most vulnerable, reflecting the essence of Matthew’s life work.