Former D.C. Fire Recruit Pleads Guilty In N.J. Firefighter Family Deaths

"Guilty. . . . Guilty. . . . Guilty."

Fighting back tears, Jonathan Conor O'Neill, 25, weakly uttered the word three times yesterday in a Fairfax County courtroom for the mother, daughter and nephew who were killed in October when his pickup truck slammed into their parked car along Interstate 66 on his way home from a night of barhopping in the District.

O'Neill, a former D.C. fire recruit from Delaplane, pleaded guilty to three counts of aggravated involuntary manslaughter in the deaths of Maureen O'Callahan, 41, Tara O'Callahan, 20, and John Oldigs, 23. The New Jersey family had been on the way to a family reunion in Culpeper, Va.

O'Neill faces up to 20 years in prison on each of the three charges. Circuit Judge Leslie M. Alden told O'Neill that the lowest sentence she can impose May 20 is one year for each life lost.

"After looking at the evidence, Conor decided that the best thing to do was to enter the pleas of guilty," said O'Neill's attorney, Carroll A. Weimer Jr. "Conor recognizes that this is a tragedy for the O'Callahan family, and his heart goes out to them. There's no way for him to adequately express his feeling."

Witnesses were prepared to testify to the horror they saw unfold on I-66 about 2:30 a.m. Oct. 8 as O'Neill weaved in and out of traffic, said Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Julie Mitchell.

One woman said she saw O'Neill's Dodge pickup pass her on the right, speeding along the shoulder of the road toward a parked Honda Accord, the prosecutor said.

"She hung back and left him ample room to move back into the right travel lane, saying aloud to herself, 'Please get back in the lane,' " Mitchell said.

Maureen O'Callahan's husband, Tim, 42, who had briefly stepped out of the Honda, was a short distance from the car moments before the crash.

"The Dodge pickup truck struck and pushed the Honda twice before coming to rest, literally on top of the Honda Accord -- approximately 100 yards from the point of initial impact," Mitchell said.

Tim O'Callahan, a 23-year-veteran of a New Jersey fire department, fought to revive his family. But it was too late, Mitchell said.

As Mitchell described the accident scene, O'Neill sat at the defense table with his head hung low.

In the moments after the crash, Tim O'Callahan heard O'Neill revving his engine as if to flee the scene, Mitchell said.

"Mr. O'Callahan yanked him out of the truck and struck him several times, ultimately throwing a tire on top of the defendant to keep him down," Mitchell said.

According to a toxicologist's report, O'Neill, who had been seen sharing pitchers of beer with other fire recruits at the Irish Times bar in the District and was later escorted out of the Coyote Ugly bar by a bouncer, had a blood alcohol level of 0.18, Mitchell said. That level is more than twice the legal limit in Virginia of 0.08 and causes impaired vision, coordination, reflexes and reaction.

Copyright 2005, Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive and The Washington Post. All Rights Reserved.