Florida Firefighter Escapes DUI Manslaughter Charge after Killing Motorcycle Rider

Blaming the Bad Brakes

A firefighter from Big Corkscrew Island is facing a misdemeanor DUI charge instead of a felony DUI manslaughter charge after a fatal motorcycle crash in December 2011 that killed a colleague.

Josesh O’Callaghan was arrested by the Florida High Patrol troopers last week after reporting a blood alcohol concentration of 0.143. He was driving in this impaired state when he rear-ended Justin Petrucelli on a dark road in Golden Gate Estates. The twenty five year old, Petrucelli, a resident of Golden Estates, expired five days after the fatal accident.

After thorough investigations, the detectives concluded that although O’Callaghan was driving under influence, there was insufficient evidence to imprison him on a DUI manslaughter charge; alleging that O’Callaghan’s car had a malfunctioning brake light. In a statement by FHP Lt. Conner Carwell earlier last week, alleged that the firefighter was drunk but the Petrucelli had abruptly stopped in front of him. Troopers said O’Callaghan was riding his 2006 Harley Davidson when Petrucelli, on a 2011 Harley Davidson, abruptly braked in front of him on the 4400 block of 20th Avenue Northeast.

“The investigator felt he was not able to prove, or develop enough probable cause to prove, that Mr. O’Callaghan had a causational role in the crash,” Cardwell further added. He also said that Petrucelli was under the influence of alcohol, but his BAC wasn’t available Monday.

On the same day, Petrucelli’s father, David, said he supports the decision not to make a DUI manslaughter arrest. “The only thing Joseph is guilty of is being careless,” David Petrucelli said. “I don’t think it’s worthy of being charged with manslaughter for that. They were friends, after all.”

According to Petrucelli, two witnesses quickly stopped because he rode past his destination which was a party where friends were watching a pay-per-view boxing match. Both riders were flown to Lee Memorial Hospital, where Petrucelli was later pronounced dead.

A press release issued immediately after the crash indicated O’Callaghan failed to see Petrucelli stopped in front of him because he was distracted by a group of people trying to get his attention. Further investigation, however, showed that account was incorrect, Cardwell said.

O’Callaghan’s lawyer, Michelle Hill, said she wasn’t expecting a DUI manslaughter arrest.”It looked pretty obvious from the beginning that there were some issues as to causation,” Hill said. “Because of that, I thought what he was charged with is what I had expected.”

Hill said O’Callaghan, a lieutenant paramedic, was seriously injured in the crash and continues to recover from a brain injury. He returned to duty for Big Corkscrew Island in mid-April after being cleared by doctors.

“He’s getting better, but he’s definitely not 100 percent,” Hill said. “It’s pretty remarkable that he’s still with us, to be honest.”

O’Callaghan arraignment is scheduled for first August 1, though was released last Friday on a $1,000 bond.

The investigations into the matter are still being undertaken by the Big Corkscrew Island authorities who  opened an internal investigation Monday following O’Callaghan’s arrest, Chief Rita Greenberg said. O’Callaghan wasn’t on duty at the time of the crash, Greenberg said. O’Callaghan hasn’t been disciplined since the crash and will continue to work pending the investigation’s outcome.

“We’re still doing some internal investigation on our own,” Green Berg said, “so I’m not willing to speculate any further on what actions we’ll be taking.”

Author: Amir Ladan
A former assistant state attorney for Orange/Osceola Counties, Amir has handled thousands of cases and dozens of trials, ranging from DUI and traffic offenses to murder, in both adult and juvenile court.

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