Mother Killed by Hit-Run Driver; 2 Boys Escape Injury
In an accident that seems certain to intensify debate about speeding vehicles in the area’s narrow streets, a mother was struck and killed by a hit-and-run driver on Newport’s Balboa Peninsula Thursday evening. Her two young sons survived by leaping out of the way.
Debbie Ann Killelea, 37, who herself had become active in a growing movement to control traffic, was fatally struck behind her home on East Ocean Boulevard about 5 p.m. when a driver suspected of being drunk sped down an alley and swerved into her, Newport Beach Police Officer Robert Oakley said.
Danny David Ornelas, 19, of Huntington Park, identified by police as the driver, allegedly fled on foot and was later caught by officers. A Newport Beach police spokesman said it appeared that he had intentionally turned toward the woman. Police said they will ask the district attorney’s office to file murder charges against the driver.
Witnesses told police that Killelea tried to move out of the way when the car approached her head-on at a high rate of speed and swerved at her, Oakley said.
Oakley said there was no indication that Ornelas knew the victim.
Killelea was involved in several community organizations and recently had talked to neighbors about taking action against reckless drivers in the neighborhood.
“I heard a couple of neighbors talking outside about how, of everyone out here, Debbie was the most concerned about what was happening in the alley,” neighbor Gayle King said.
Several parents on the block had expressed concern in past months about drivers racing through the alley, where their children often play, she said.
“All of us have been on the phone at least once a night this summer calling police because of the people speeding through the alley,” King said.
Thursday evening, six neighbors went door to door seeking support for a request to the city for speed bumps in the alley “so this can’t ever happen again,” she said.
The incident occurred when Killelea and her two sons, Michael, 10, and Joe, 6, were walking in the alley behind their home in the 2100 block of East Ocean Boulevard.
Suddenly, a 1984 Nissan 200SX came toward them at a high rate of speed and struck Killelea, Oakley said.
“The victim was caught between the vehicle and a block wall on the north side of the alley, then thrown 50 feet through the air,” Oakley said. "(The car) overturned and slid a short distance after it careened off the wall. The driver climbed out of the overturned vehicle and fled on foot.”
Officer Glen Fisher chased the driver on foot and caught him near Channel Road and Ocean Boulevard, where he was arrested without incident.
Killelea was taken to Fountain Valley Regional Hospital & Medical Center, where she died during surgery, police said.
Video Camera in Car
The passenger, a 17-year-old boy, was peering through a video camera at the time of the accident, Oakley said. Investigators were unable to determine why.
“There was nothing on the videotape,” he said. “We were hoping it would provide some valuable evidence, but it did not.”
The passenger, who was not identified because he is a juvenile, was treated at Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian for minor injuries and released, Oakley said.
Neighbors were left shaken by the accident.
“It sounded like there was a train coming through the house. I opened the garage door and she was just lying there,” King recalled, fighting back tears.
“I was upstairs and I heard her son Michael screaming,” said Stephanie Williams, who lives two houses from the Killeleas. “I looked out and there she was. Everyone was afraid to touch her.”
Safety Behind Wall
The two children managed to escape behind a wall and were not injured, Oakley said. “The 10-year-old had to pull the 6-year-old back, otherwise he would have been hit too. . . . (They) were able to avoid being hit by the vehicle but did see the entire accident.”
Oakley said Ornelas is refusing to cooperate with the investigation. According to the California Department of Motor Vehicles, Ornelas has not been convicted of major traffic offenses or been involved in other accidents. His record shows only two traffic citations.
In addition to suspicion of murder, Ornelas was booked on suspicion of felony drunk driving and hit and run, Oakley said. He is being held in Newport Beach Jail in lieu of $250,000 bail.
Killelea was remembered in her neighborhood Friday as being well-liked and respected.
“It’s really sad for all of us who know her,” Williams said. “She was really nice and sweet. . . . She was really involved with the community, and they were the all-American family.”
Killelea and her husband, Brian, moved to Newport Beach when they were married 16 years ago, friends said.
Killelea was involved in several community organizations, including the Ladies Guild of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Catholic Church, where she also was involved in preschool programs and religious education. She recently resigned from the Junior League of Newport Harbor, where she served on several committees, including Project Seal, a child molestation prevention program for elementary schools in Costa Mesa and Newport Beach.
“This is such a tragedy,” said Mickey Newhard, office manager of the Junior League. “She was a lovely girl, just a very special person.”