During the early morning of Sunday, July 11, 1998, Officer Claire Connelly was
investigating a traffic collision on a roadway in the city of Riverside when she
was struck by a drunk motorist. The drunk driver’s vehicle then collided with a
parked tow truck, injuring the tow truck driver. Officer Connelly suffered head,
pelvic and abdominal injuries. The tow truck driver, Alejandro Garcia, was able
to use Officer Connelly’s police car radio to call for help. Mr. Garcia suffered
knee and other moderate injuries as a result of the collision.
Officer Connelly was removed from life support on July 12, 1998, becoming the
Riverside Police Department’s first female police officer to die in the line of
duty. She was Riverside’s 11th officer to be killed while on duty. Officer
Connelly had been with the police department for 18 months at her time of death;
she had been assigned to a single officer squad car for the last six weeks.
Riverside Police Chief Gerald Carroll, who was at the hospital most of the day
following the accident talking to Connelly's family and colleagues, said "She
was a very bright warm, well-liked young person."
Sgt. Don Taulli stated "She's worked really well with everybody. She was a very
nice person and was on her way to being a very good cop."
At her funeral on July 17, attended by more than one thousand people including
family, officers, friends and community members, speakers urged mourners not to
hate Barbary, the woman accused of causing
Connelly's death. Her sister, Mary
Anne Connelly, told the audience "Any hatred I have would not hurt her. It would
destroy me. I do not believe that she intended to kill anyone when she got into
the car that night." Ms. Connelly spoke of poems and sayings that her sister
loved. One spoke of believing in the sun, even when it didn't shine and
believing in God, even when he is silent. "Today, it feels like God is silent,"
she tearfully stated.
Connelly's father, John, had a business associate and friend read his words at
the eulogy. He urged those at the service to treat everyone they meet on his
daughter's funeral as if that stranger would die at midnight. The bubbly,
bright, and happy Connelly would have liked that, her father said.
Connelly's father's friend ended by saying, "Heaven is a happier place with
Claire controlling the clouds today."
Toward the end of the graveside service, a touching moment showed another side
of Connelly as members of an Alcoholics Anonymous group from Palm Springs called
her an inspiration. In steady, compassionate voices, the group recited the 27
words that changed their lives, and the life of Claire Connelly, a woman with
whom they strongly identified, despite their diverse backgrounds.
Members of the Alcoholics Anonymous group described Connelly's 14 years of
sobriety as a worthy goal they intended to pursue. They said that she continued
to attend the Palm Springs group's meetings even though she had started a new
life in Riverside.
Connelly's father said he was pleasantly surprised by the AA members who
attended the ceremony. He said his daughter was a recovering alcoholic who was
active in the group as a "sponsor," or mentor, for others.
Connelly, who was born in New Orleans, La., lived in Moreno Valley and had lived
in Riverside County for 22 years. Connelly's mother, Carole Nagengast, said,
"There was no holding her down. She planned to return to school to get a
master's degree in education or psychology. She wanted to become a forensic
psychologist. She had a deep sense of service to the community.
wanted to make a difference in the world and she did." She was an avid skier,
pilot and runner. She had earned an associate's degree from Riverside Community
College and graduated from California State University, San Bernardino, with a
degree in psychology in 1995.
In addition to her parents and sister, Connelly is survived by her stepfather,
Michael Kearney; stepmother, Gisela Connelly; brother, John Connelly Jr.;
grandparents Walter and Mary Nagengast and Ellen Kearney; and nephews Seth, John
II, Christopher and Daniel Connelly.
The family asks that contributions be made to the Claire Nicole Connelly
Scholarship Foundation through the Riverside Police Department, 4102 Orange
Street, Riverside, CA 92501, (951) 826-5940. The fund will benefit children of