This is my latest paper. It was for my Victimology class. I had to read this article (http://wapo.st/T9Cg9G) and analyze it based on items from victimology (basically the study of victims and how to best help them). So, without further ado, here it is. As usual, please do not steal or plagarize my work, but feel free to use the reference or reference this paper in your own source.
Victims handle tragedy and trauma in different ways. In order to understand why victims react the way they do and why the author, Jackman, chose to approach this article in this particular manner, one must utilize the study of victimology, which includes looking at who the victims are, how they were impacted, and what could have made the criminal justice system process a little easier in this case. This can be done by looking at items such as grief and loss issues, victim-impact, accountability, and the role of the criminal justice system. Jackman (2005) does not lessen the severity of this crime, nor its impact on those left behind, but he does seem to suggest that although this was a horrible crime, some good may potentially come of it. Jackman describes the details of the case, how it impacted those left behind, the drunk driver’s sentencing, as well as the impact that the defendant’s apology had on the family. Throughout this article, however, he discusses the personality and character of the drunk driver, O’Neill, as well. This provides the reader with a well-rounded understanding of the case. However, the article seems to direct a lot of sympathy toward O’Neill, in addition to sympathy for the victims. This aspect of the article is interesting, but proves useful when one comes to understand what seems to be the main theme of the article, namely, even something bad or tragic can end with or produce something good, which be discussed in detail.
Keywords: victim-impact, victimology, grief, loss, criminal justice system
Compassion in the Midst of Pain: An Analysis of a Drunk-Driving Collision
In 2005, Jonathan C. O’Neill was driving drunk on Interstate 66 when he hit a car stopped on the shoulder. This car had just pulled over to switch drivers, and was hit while the driver was outside of the car. The 3 individuals inside were killed on impact and the surviving man subdued O’Neill before he could flee the scene. O’Neill was later charged with 3 counts of aggravated involuntary manslaughter, sentenced to 6 years in prison and 5,000 hours of community service upon release, and yet the surviving victim, Tim O’Callahan, was able to say, “I don’t see any good for him to be in jail…Everybody knows it’s an accident. He’s a young guy. Maybe he’ll come out and do some good in the world” (Jackman, 2005, para. 18). Jackman (2005) does not lessen the severity of this crime, nor its impact on those left behind, but he does seem to suggest that although this was a horrible crime, some good may potentially come of it. Jackman describes the details of the case, how it has impacted those left behind, the sentencing of O’Neill, as well as the impact that O’Neill’s apology had on the family. Throughout this article, however, he discusses O’Neill’s character as well. This provides the reader with a well-rounded understanding of the case. However, the article seems to direct a lot of sympathy toward O’Neill, in addition to sympathy for the victims. This aspect of the article is interesting, but proves useful when one comes to understand what seems to be the main theme of the article, namely, even something bad or tragic can end with or produce something good.
Victims all handle tragedy and trauma in different ways. In order to understand why victims react the way they do and why the author chose to approach this article in this particular manner, one must utilize the study of victimology, which includes looking at who all of the victims are, how they were impacted, and what could have made the criminal justice system process a little easier. This can be done by looking at items such as grief and loss issues, victim-impact, accountability, and the role of the criminal justice system. These items are all seen within the O’Neill case as described by Jackman.
Grief and Loss Issues
It is quite clear that the O’Callahan and Oldigs families are upset by the accident caused by this drunk driver. John Oldigs Sr. looked at O’Neill in court and asked O’Neill if knew that he had killed his family while his truck was sitting on top of their car (Jackman, 2005). O’Callahan’s surviving daughter said that losing them was “unbearable” (para. 15). Tim O’Callahan read a letter at trial that was from his now deceased daughter which said, “You are the best dad…Because of you, I know I’ll be successful. I can’t wait for the day you walk me down the aisle” (Jackman, 2005, para. 14). Surely these are statements that clearly show that this family has experienced a loss that has caused them much grief. The grief and loss were obvious, but what is unknown is how the family was handling it or how the trial was affecting them. Tim O’Callahan had the largest role in the Jackman article as the surviving victim, and as thus his reactions will be discussed in more detail throughout this article.
O’Callahan’s Reaction to Loss
At the scene of the collision, O’Callahan reacted by punching O’Neill several times and throwing a tire on top of him so that he could not move or flee the scene. During the trial O’Callahan presented an unopened apology letter that O’Neill had written, and he said that he did not care what O’Neill felt or had to say to him. Both of these reveal O’Callahan’s anger at O’Neill. However, at the end of the trial after sentencing, he said that he did not see a reason for O’Neill to go to jail because he is young and still has the chance to do something good in the world despite his drunk-driving incident. This seems to be a positive change for O’Callahan because he originally did not care anything about O’Neill. But, then he seemed to change his view and began believing that O’Neill was indeed apologetic and could still have a positive impact in the world one day. This was probably due to hearing O’Neill apologize, and it ultimately helped him to be able to move on some from anger to understanding. O’Callahan could have reacted any number of ways, so one may wonder why he reacted the way he did. One example of how he could have reacted differently is that he could have immediately ran to his car and checked on his family without any thought about the person or vehicle which caused them harm, and then at trial he could have decided that nothing O’Neill had to say could change what happened and not felt any compassion toward him. Why did O’Callahan not react in this fashion?
It would seem unlikely that O’Callahan would go to the truck without a reason to do so, which explains his actions at the scene. The article reports that that he heard O’Neill’s engine revving as though he was attempting to flee the scene, so it is likely that this is the reason O’Callahan chose to go over to O’Neill, punch him, and put a tire on top of him. He probably did not want this man to escape; he would want justice for the harm done to his family. However, one would suppose that he would have primarily been concerned with the safety and livelihood of his family after he had just seen a truck crash into their car. On the other hand, though, O’Callahan was a firefighter and his profession may have trained him to handle things a little bit differently than someone who has never worked in or with law enforcement personnel. As a firefighter he may be more aware that people will often attempt to flee the scene of a crime, so perhaps his first instinct was to secure the person who committed this act. At first glance, this may seem as though he acted illogically by not going to his family first, but when considering his profession, one may be able to come to understand that his thought processes may be slightly different than those of others. One must also consider that when individuals are in shock or experiencing some kind of traumatic event, each person will react differently and sometimes unexpectedly. O’Callahan did indeed check on his family and call the appropriate authorities, though, and in the end his actions allowed justice to be served for his lost family members. He may have reacted the way he did because of his experience and background as a firefighter and/or because of the context at the scene; O’Neill harmed his family and was attempting to flee, which lead him to quickly subdue O’Neill before he could flee. There are many reasons he could have reacted, but it I likely not predictable because each victim is going to react differently to loss or pain.
The Role of O’Neill’s Apology
In addition to analyzing O’Callahan’s reactions at the scene, the author would like to consider how Jackman portrayed O’Callahan within the article and how this aided in his main theme, which is that good things can even come out of a horrible tragedy such as this one. Jackman begins by telling us that O’Callahan is a firefighter, which happens to be the same profession as the drunk driver, and goes on to describe how O’Callahan did not care what O’Neill had to say or what he felt, assumingly because of what O’Neill did to his family. Clearly, as discussed earlier, O’Callahan was angry. Then Jackman quotes O’Neill’s apology from the court room where he says,
I cannot imagine Mr. O’Callahan’s grief. He’s a firefighter; he saves lives [emphasis added]. Then, out of the night, a fellow firefighter [emphasis added] causes all this misery. I was supposed to help people…No one should have to go through what these families have been through because of my recklessness. I’m sorry. I’m sorry (Jackman, 2005, para. 16).
While O’Neill does sound sincerely apologetic and remorseful, he also seems to be appealing to the sympathies of the victim, the family and the court. O’Neill mentions that O’Callahan is a firefighter who saves lives while O’Neill says that he had acted recklessly instead of saving lives as he was supposed to do by drinking and driving. This creates sympathy from the readers for both the victims and O’Neill by showing O’Neill’s willingness to hold himself accountable and responsible for the accident. By taking responsibility for the accident and the deaths of these 3 individuals, O’Neill allows the family to experience some relief rather than hurting them further by protesting or denying the claims. He has likely made the trial process a little easier on the families and victims left behind. Jackman (2005) uses this apology and its ability to ease their hurt in order to show that good can come of “evil,” or from a tragedy such as this. A family can indeed move on a little more easily if there is accountability on the part of the defendant. Additionally, in this particular case we also see the surviving victim, Tim O’Callahan, wishing that the defendant did not get jail time for his actions, even as reckless as they were. This is significant in understanding the way a victim thinks. This suggests that the victim somewhat sympathizes for the defendant, or can at least believe that the defendant is apologetic and remorseful, and has the potential for changing. O’Callahan expressed that he felt O’Neill could still do something good with his life. Not only does this show that O’Callahan has been able to move on some past his anger at O’Neill, but it also shows the overall theme of the article that it is indeed possible for good to come out of tragedy. Jackman skillfully uses comments from both the victim and O’Neill to reinforce this idea. In this case it certainly seems that good can indeed come; that O’Neill has learned a very important life lesson and that his community service and jail time may reinforce his desire to help others in the future rather than hurt them.
There were many individuals who were impacted because O’Neill was drinking and driving. The obvious ones are Tim O’Callahan, John Oldigs Sr., and the siblings of Tara O’Callahan. The strong, negative impact for the loss of these people is greatly evidenced in the comments and reactions of their family members. Oldigs Sr., whose son was killed in the accident, looked at O’Neill during the trial and wanted to know if he knew that he had killed those 3 people directly after the crash had occurred, which is clearly a question pondered by someone who is grieving. He wanted to know if O’Neill knew what he had done; what O’Neill did to his family members. This indicates to the reader, even though nothing else is mentioned about Oldigs Sr. in the article, that he was deeply impacted by this tragedy. This type of question is more than likely a question that would be on anyone’s mind who had lost loved ones to an accident such as this. Oldigs Sr. also said that his son was looking forward to being the first of his many cousins to graduate from college. This statement seems to imply, in a way, that his son’s life and future were stolen from him. Oldigs Sr. likely had mixed emotions during the trial, namely, grief and anger. Both of his statements indicate that he was emotional and was grieving the loss of his son. However, the article does not discuss the impact on Oldigs Sr. any further than this, and thus it is hard to fully comprehend the level of impact that this had on him without making some assumptions. Oldigs Sr. seemed to fondly recall his son and to want to know what the killer was thinking as he “sat atop them” in his truck, both of which are clearly showing a strong impact, but it is difficult to say exactly how strong (Jackman, 2005, para. 13).
Tim O’Callahan and one of his surviving daughters both expressed pain at the loss of their family members. O’Callahan read a letter from his deceased daughter to the court, likely to show that he had lost someone special who had hopes and dreams of a good future. One of her surviving siblings said that having her family members killed “before her life has even begun is unbearable [emphasis added]” (Jackman, 2005, para. 15). She certainly has been deeply impacted. Her choice of words in this quote shows that this is very likely true. What sibling would not be devastated to lose her sister and her mother at the same time to an accident that could have been prevented? In addition to showing her grief, it adds to the developing sense that this was an accident that stole lives and futures, and should therefore not be taken lightly. The author does indeed sympathize with the family in this way, as can be seen here, but he also seems to sympathize with the drunk driver in some way. Some readers may find this problematic because the victims are the ones who lost the most; they lost more than O’Neill. These families lost people who could have done so much more with their lives, but those opportunities were snatched by a reckless young man driving while intoxicated. O’Neill lost his freedom for a while, but he could eventually begin to live a fairly normal life again. However, Jackman is likely attempting to create an unbiased account of this case and to develop a theme throughout his short article. He points out how tragic it is, but he also points out how O’Neill had never been in trouble with the law before and showed how remorseful O’Neill was for the pain and loss he had created because of his reckless actions. This is effective in helping Jackman develop his overall theme that good can come out tragedy.
The families are not the only individuals who were impacted by this accident. Tara O’Callahan’s college roommates could not move back into the house they had once shared with her, and her softball teammates all wore her number on their jerseys the following spring. These events show that others outside of the family were also deeply saddened and impacted by the sudden loss of these 3 lives. By additionally describing these events, Jackman again helps to further develop his theme. It is as though he is saying that yes, this is tragic, as evidenced by all these statements and events, however, O’Neill is remorseful and at least some of the family members understand that and some kind of good is able to come out of this tragedy. The family is able to find some closure and peace because O’Neill is remorseful and is going to be punished, but there is also an opportunity for O’Neill to make changes in his life and potentially “come out and do some good in this world” (Jackman, 2005, para. 18).
There is no mention in the article of whether the surviving victim or family members were counseled or would be, and there is no mention of victim’s services. There are only a few details that are clearly seen in trial testimony that will aid in this analysis. Two of the surviving family members, O’Callahan and Oldigs Sr., both seemed to be speaking out of anger at different points which suggests that perhaps victim’s services was not used, or if it was used, their advice was not heeded. Outbursts of anger could potentially make the victims and family members look bad, but on the other hand, it could also make their emotions and feelings more tangible and real. It appears as though the latter is more likely to be the case in the O’Neill accident because these outbursts are not overly emotional to the point where the witnesses seem too overly confident or “too strong” which could potentially be harmful to their testimony. They simply wanted to know if O’Neill knew what he had done and wanted him to know that no matter what he said or wrote they did not want to hear it. If O’Callahan or Oldigs Sr. had uncontrollably yelled at O’Neill from the stand, or something similar, that would have been the type of overly emotional testimony that could have been detrimental to their credibility as witnesses. However, as that was not the case, they simply revealed their grief in a genuine and tangible manner which helped the judge, as well as the reader of Jackman’s article, to see that the pain was legitimate and likely deep. It also helps Jackman develop his theme because the reader again sees that there was real pain involved.
While it appears that victim’s services may not have been used because there were angry sentiments shared with the court by family members, which would go against the advice of victim’s services personnel, this family would likely still benefit from their services. The family members interviewed all seem to fondly recall their lost loved ones, miss them, and feel as though their lives were stolen from them unfairly. Victim’s services could have helped them by referring them to counselors who could help them deal with the grief and loss they clearly experienced. However, the family still seems to handle themselves quite well in court despite any anger or grief that they are experiencing. This could hint that they were able to cope without the help of victim’s services or counselors, or that they were using these resources and these resources were effective. However, the article does not mention victim’s services, and therefore one may speculate either way.
The Criminal Justice System and Sentencing
Jonathan O’Neill received 6 years in jail with 5,000 hours of community service during his 15-year period of probation. The judge told O’Neill that she sentenced him on the low end of the guidelines because she believed he could be rehabilitated (Jackman, 2005). This is a sensible decision because Jackman discusses O’Neill’s background as a firefighter. He also informs the reader that, “O’Neill’s family and friends testified that he had not been in any trouble previously and was a solid citizen [emphasis added]. He began doing volunteer work for the Warrenton fire department at 14…” (Jackman, 2005, para. 12). The reader also learns that O’Neill was still a firefighter at the time of the accident. Generally, this profession is held in high regard, which adds a positive aspect to O’Neill’s character. Originally, O’Callahan did not want to hear what O’Neill had to say to him in an apology letter because he did not care how O’Neill felt. However, after sentencing, O’Callahan said, “I don’t see any good for him to be in jail…Everybody knows it’s an accident. He’s a young guy. Maybe he’ll come out and do some good in the world” (Jackman, 2005, para. 18). It appears as though O’Callahan believed that the judge’s sentence was too strict, but clearly this means that justice has been served if the surviving victim believes that the sentence is too strict. Both the judge and O’Callahan seem to believe that O’Neill could be rehabilitated. This is interesting because the surviving victim is sympathetic toward the man who killed 3 of his family members. One may suggest that O’Callahan changed his mind once he heard O’Neill apologize. O’Callahan said in court that he did not care what O’Neill felt or had to say to him, yet after sentencing he seemed to side with O’Neill and it is probably because he heard O’Neill speak and apologize. O’Neill sounded legitimately remorseful and he referred to their mutual profession, which likely brought about some sympathy from O’Callahan.
It is also interesting that O’Callahan seems to change his mind because it suggests that perhaps he has begun the process of going from anger to resolution; a process of closure. Perhaps hearing that O’Neill knew that he had hurt this family and that he was remorseful was helpful for O’Callahan to have some peace and feel as though he was able to move on a little more easily. On the other hand, O’Callahan may have reacted this way to the sentence because he is naturally a compassionate person. However, the first comment from him that the reader sees is one where he says that O’Callahan “could care less what he [O’Neill] feels or what he has to say” (Jackman, 2005, para. 5). This indicates that he struggles with compassion, at least during the trial, because he does not want anything to do with O’Neill. However, he shows compassion in his statement after sentencing, and therefore seems to change his view of O’Neill in some way. It is not likely that he has shown compassion all along. It is most likely that O’Neill’s apology at court allowed O’Callahan to find some peace as well as some compassion for O’Neill as a fellow firefighter.
In addition, Jackman uses the sentencing to help him form his theme. It is really the crux of his theme in that it provides a way for a victim to show compassion on a man who killed 3 of his family members. Most victims or survivors would not be able to say that the person who killed their family members did not deserve time in jail; however, O’Callahan did just that. This helps develop Jackman’s theme that good can come from tragedy in two ways. First of all, because of O’Neill’s apology and his sentence, O’Callahan was able to move past anger into some peace and compassion. Secondly, O’Callahan is directly quoted as saying “Maybe he’ll come out and do some good [emphasis added] in this world” (Jackman, 2005, para.18). Jackman ends the article on this quote which leaves the reader thinking that perhaps O’Neill can indeed come out and still do something good in the world. This statement, which is directly from the victim’s mouth, provides the perfect ending to the article because it creates the perfect way to get the reader to understand Jackman’s point that good can come from tragedy.
Victims all react differently to crime, to trials, to sentencing, and to life after it is all over. In this particular case, the focus is mainly on Tim O’Callahan, the surviving victim, and the man who caused the accident, Jonathan O’Neill. It is clear that the family members were all deeply impacted and were grieving the loss of their 3 family members, but each likely reacted differently. In the article by Jackman (2005), the most can be understood by looking at the impact on O’Callahan as a victim and by looking at how he handled his loss and grief, the role of O’Neill’s accountability, and the role of the court’s sentencing. O’Callahan likely reacted in the way he did at the scene because of his profession as a firefighter, and it is probable that during the trial he went from being angry to showing compassion because he could see that O’Neill was remorseful and that he was a fellow firefighter who made a mistake. He could have reacted in many different ways, but he reacted in the manner that he did because of his background, profession and because of his experiences during the trial. In addition to this, Jackman used all of these reactions and trial experiences to show the reader that good can come from a tragedy, but it may be a process, as this case was and will continue to be. O’Callahan was able to gain some peace of mind and a sense of justice because of this trial and because of O’Neill’s apology, and O’Neill likely learned an incredibly important lesson that will hopefully continue to shape him into the distant future. He may indeed still be able to do some good in the world, even after his recklessness harmed the lives of so many.
Jackman, T. (2005, May 21). Apologetic Drunk Driver Who Killed 3 on I-66 Gets 6 Years in Prison. The Washington Post. Retrieved from http://www.washingtonpost.com/