Rialto city councilman found dead in his van


A partially paralyzed Rialto city councilman was found dead in his van in the parking lot of a Loma Linda restaurant Sunday, authorities said.

Shawn O’Connell, 48, was found unresponsive in his vehicle at 11:34 a.m. by Rialto police officers who were headed to Loma Linda University Medical Center to check on his whereabouts, Rialto Police Chief Randy De Anda said in a statement.

Sheriff’s deputies responded to the parking lot in the 24800 block of Redlands Boulevard, and medical personnel pronounced O’Connell dead at the scene, according to the San Bernardino County Sheriff-Coroner’s Department.


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Investigators found no sign of foul play, Cindy Bachman, a sheriff’s spokeswoman, told The Times.

Del Taco and KFC restaurants share a parking lot on that block of Redlands Boulevard, and police activity had been reported in the area, according to the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin.

The sheriff’s department is investigating O’Connell’s death, and an autopsy will be performed to determine the cause of death, authorities said.

O’Connell, a retired Rialto police sergeant, was reported missing after failing to arrive Saturday night at a Friends of the Rialto Library event, David Phillips, a friend who helped O’Connell with his City Council campaign, told the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin.

O’Connell, who was confined to a wheelchair, broke his neck in 2004 after being thrown over his handlebars in an all-terrain vehicle crash, the councilman wrote on the Facebook page he was using to promote his reelection campaign this year.


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“I landed head first on the ground, instantly realizing I was paralyzed as a quadriplegic,” wrote O’Connell, who was elected to the City Council in 2012.

O’Connell drove a custom vehicle with toggles and other devices that allowed him to drive, the Times reported in 2013.

He had to be rescued by police in December 2013 after crashing his vehicle in a ditch in the High Desert and spending 11 hours unconscious in the cold. The councilman was driving north on the 15 Freeway in Devore when he suffered a back spasm, causing him to veer off the pavement and land in a 30-foot ditch, Rialto police told The Times then.

O’Connell regained consciousness after being reported missing and “was miraculously able to drive his vehicle out of the ditch” to call for help after being without cellphone service, Chief De Anda said then. He suffered a bruised kidney and a fractured vertebrae in that accident.

In a statement this week, the Rialto Police Department said O’Connell “rose to the rank of sergeant quickly and he was known for his strong work ethic and no-nonsense attitude for fighting crime.” As a sergeant, he ran a patrol team, worked on the department’s bike team and was a SWAT crisis negotiator.


O’Connell was the department’s officer of the year in 1998.

“He had a deep passion to help his fellow man and even while serving on the Rialto City Council, he was extremely involved with the police department and the youth programs,” the department said.


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