A Community Says Farewell to Victim of Alleged Hit-Run

Times Staff Writer

When Father Norbert Wood first heard that one of his favorite parishioners had been killed by a drunk-driving suspect on Newport Beach’s Balboa Peninsula last Thursday, he became so angry that he reconsidered his stand against capital punishment, he said.

But the Roman Catholic priest said he cooled down after speaking with Debbie Ann Killelea’s husband and finding that he harbored no animosity toward the 19-year-old man who allegedly struck her. If Brian Killelea could ask forgiveness for the man charged in his wife’s death, others should do the same, Wood told more than 600 mourners who attended the funeral Tuesday.

“Pray that the Lord will touch the soul of that young man,” Wood said during a 90-minute Mass for the dead community leader at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church on Balboa Peninsula.

Across town in Harbor Municipal Court on Tuesday, a judge set bail at $250,000 for Danny David Ornelas, who is being held on suspicion of murder in Killelea’s death. Arraignment was set for Thursday before Municipal Judge Glenn A. Mahler.


Sons Escaped Harm

Ornelas, of Huntington Park, was booked on suspicion of murder after a witness told Newport Beach police that he appeared to intentionally swerve to hit Killelea, 37, as she was walking Thursday afternoon with her two sons in the alley behind their home in the 2100 block of East Ocean Boulevard. Killelea died a short time later at Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian. Her sons, ages 10 and 6, managed to jump to safety behind a wall.

After the crash, police said Ornelas fled on foot. When he was captured a short time later, he was legally intoxicated, according to police.

Ornelas, who is being held in the Newport City Jail, exhibited little emotion in court Tuesday. However, his attorney, Ralph Bencagney, said Ornelas is distraught about the death. Bencagney said Ornelas is a student at a Los Angeles County college, but he did not name the school. “He’s a youngster (and) it’s something that’s real hard on him,” Bencagney said outside court Tuesday. Bencagney complained that the murder charge is too harsh and said that involuntary manslaughter would have been a more appropriate charge. Involuntary manslaughter carries a maximum 10-year prison sentence, compared to life for a murder conviction.


Ornelas’ family--some of whom wept openly when bailiffs led him into the courtroom Tuesday--declined to make any comment.

Wayne R. Sims, a lawyer and friend of the Killeleas, said after the bond hearing that he hopes that Newport Beach officials will work with Balboa Penisula residents to slow traffic in the area where Killelea was struck. The victim had been active in an effort to install speed bumps in the alley, and neighbors have begun a petition for better traffic control since her death.

“We are really hoping something positive will come out of this,” Sims said.

At the funeral, Killelea was eulogized as a caring, giving person. A longtime resident of the Peninsula and the nearby Bayshore community of Newport Beach, Killelea was involved in the Ladies Guild of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church and the Junior League of Newport Harbor, where she took part in such efforts as Project Seal, a child molestation prevention program for elementary schools in Costa Mesa and Newport Beach.


Mourners Overflow Church

“She touched everyone’s lives,” said family friend Jennifer Rabbitt, 25, who dabbed at tearful eyes at the funeral Tuesday.

A flower-adorned casket containing Killelea’s body was placed for the funeral at the front of the church where she had attended 10 a.m. services every Sunday. Her husband, sons Michael, 10, and Joe, 6, and daughter Hilary, 7, sat in the first pew nearest the casket. Mourners filled the seats and aisles, spilling outside the church.

Recalling Killelea’s “radiant” face as she often sat at the front of the church during Mass, Wood told the mourners that they had two reasons to be sad.


“One, someone very precious and very dear has been taken from us,” he said. "(And) Debbie’s death was a true human tragedy. We have cause to weep for our society which has strayed so far that we see every possible way of escape through the bottle and drugs.”

In his eulogy, Wood also described the reaction by Killelea’s family to the tragedy. Wood said the sons were holding up surprisingly well. In a talk with young Michael a few days after the death, Wood said, the boy confided that he was most worried about his father, a landscape company executive. The boy said his father had not slept in four nights.

Against the advice of well-wishers, Brian Killelea paid a visit Monday night to the funeral home where the body of his wife had been taken. There, said Wood, “he planted a last kiss on the lips of his bride.”

Killelea was buried at Pacific View Cemetery in Newport Beach. The family asks that donations be made to Our Lady Queen of Angels Church in Newport Beach, where Killelea’s children are enrolled in school.