A man who hit a bicyclist broadside during a high-speed chase in Garden Grove had been cited for speeding only half an hour earlier by Westminster police officers who noted then that he had been drinking, an Orange County prosecutor said Thursday.
Patrick Eugene Connolly, 24, of Anaheim, who told arresting officers Tuesday night that he "couldn't afford another speeding ticket," was charged Thursday with second-degree murder in the death of the bicyclist.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Jeoffrey L. Robinson said Connolly's flight from police "transcended gross negligence. . . . It is a classic case of second-degree murder," which carries a sentence of 15 years to life in prison.
Murder charges stemming from motor-vehicle collisions are rare but not unprecedented. "We have won at least two convictions that I know of," Robinson said.
Suspension Newly Lifted
According to the Department of Motor Vehicles, Connolly's record of driving infractions, including one reckless driving and six speeding convictions, extends back to 1981. In October, 1981, he was convicted of trying to flee from traffic officers, DMV records show.
Connolly was on DMV probation, and a suspension of his driver license had ended only four days before he was stopped by Westminster police late Tuesday night and cited for speeding, according to police reports.
Robinson said the officers noted in their report that he had been drinking but did not appear intoxicated. They warned him to turn the driving over to the woman who was his passenger, Robinson said.
About 30 minutes later, however, Westminster police saw Connolly's 1965 Mustang speeding again and turned on their flashing red lights in an attempt to stop him, Robinson said. Connolly, alone in the car by then, started to pull over, then sped away, he said.
The chase covered 4 1/2 miles--north along Brookhurst, then east along Garden Grove Boulevard at more than 80 m.p.h., officers reported. During that time, Connolly ran red lights and weaved through traffic, most of the time with his lights out, Robinson said.
Officers believe that Connolly was still traveling that fast when he approached Harbor Boulevard in Garden Grove, where Secilio Ortega Roman, 19, had just left work at a restaurant and was riding his bicycle home.
"He never saw the guy coming because the (car's) lights were out. That was probably the main reason the victim did not realize what was happening," said Garden Grove Police Sgt. Jack Ray.
Roman was crossing Garden Grove Boulevard. According to Robinson, Connolly hit Roman broadside with the full force of the automobile. Roman's body crashed through the windshield, Robinson said, "and even after that he briefly attempted to continue on until the car apparently gave out." Police said the car sustained major front-end damage.
Robinson said it appears that Connolly had worked for a marketing firm for about a month and presumably needed his driver license for the job. He said Connolly volunteered to arresting officers after the bicyclist was hit that he "couldn't afford another speeding ticket."
Still on DMV Probation
DMV officials in Sacramento confirmed that another speeding ticket would have cost Connolly another suspension and possibly loss of his license. A spokesman said Connolly is still on DMV probation "for being a negligent operator."
It was his second term of probation. The first was imposed in 1982 after Connolly, then 19, racked up a record of driving without headlights, reckless driving, trying to flee from traffic officers, crossing over a highway divider and speeding. The DMV had ordered his license suspended as well, but a DMV hearing officer overruled the suspension.
Connolly's record shows no more convictions until June, 1985. Then the speeding citations resumed, and after Connolly piled up three of them within 10 months, plus a ticket for failure to obey a traffic control device, the DMV again ordered probation and a suspension, effective April 11, 1986.
Again, Connolly's appeal to a DMV hearing officer thwarted the suspension, but when he was convicted of speeding again last October, his license was suspended anyway.
"In this situation, we feel it's a truly aggravated case," Robinson said. "He made a conscious decision to flee in reckless disregard for human life, and on these facts it goes above and beyond gross negligence."
Connolly was being held in Orange County Jail on $150,000 bail. He is scheduled for arraignment on the murder charge today in West Orange County Municipal Court.