Many are grieving with firefighter

Tragedy of seeing 3 loved ones die in crash is hard to comprehend

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

By Michaelangelo Conte
Journal staff writer
Family members gathered yesterday to support Jersey City Fire Capt. Timothy O'Callahan, whose wife, daughter and nephew were killed when an alleged drunk driver slammed into their parked car on a Virginia highway while O'Callahan stood outside the vehicle.

At O'Callahan's Engine 19 firehouse, Battalion Chief Charles Donahue said the captain is loved by firefighters.

"It's such a horrible thing, and when you realize he actually witnessed it, it's incomprehensible the grief it would cause," Donahue said. "Our hearts collectively go out to him."

On Saturday, O'Callahan, his wife Maureen, 41, daughter Tara, 20, and nephew John Oldigs, 24, were on their way to Virginia for an annual family gathering they referred to as Thanksgiving in October.

They were about 50 miles from their destination in Fairfax County at 2:45 a.m. when Maureen O'Callahan pulled over and Timothy O'Callahan got out of the Honda to take a shift at the wheel.

Seconds later, a pickup driven by Jonathan Conner O'Neal, 24, of Delplane, Va., slammed into the Honda, said Virginia state police Sgt. William Bouldin.

O'Callahan's wife, daughter and nephew were killed, Bouldin said, but O'Callahan - who was standing outside the vehicle - apparently was not injured.

O'Neal, a firefighter trainee in Washington, D.C., was charged with drunken driving and he may face additional charges, Bouldin said. His medical condition was not available.

Timothy O'Callahan's brothers, Brian and Kevin, are both lieutenants in the Jersey City Police Department, and their father, Robert, is a retired lieutenant.

A 22-year-veteran of the Fire Department, Timothy O'Callahan met his wife while they attended St. Peter's College in Jersey City. About 16 years ago they moved their family to Barnegat, where family and friends came and went yesterday, bringing food and condolences.

"The fact is that they were very beautiful people, inside and out," said a man who answered the phone at the O'Callahan home yesterday but declined to give his name.

"You can't help think of them without smiling. They will be very missed by everyone they know. The family, we are heartbroken, but they will live in our hearts forever."

Timothy and Maureen O'Callahan married in New York in 1982. In addition to Tara, they had another daughter, Maureen, 22, and a son, Caigan, 16.

Timothy and his wife attended St. Peter's College in the late 1970s, but Maureen O'Callahan left to go to beautician school and she had her own beauty parlor in Long Branch at the time of her death. She was born in Jersey City but grew up at the Jersey Shore, were she attended Shore Regional High School.

"Everything revolved around her," the family friend said. "She was beautiful, warm, always taking care of the family, her siblings, children, cousins. Always looking out for everyone. Always a busy woman. Proud of her home and her husband and children. A very devoted wife. We all called her a saint. She had a great sense of humor."

Tara O'Callahan attended Southern Regional High School in Barnegat and won a softball scholarship to Ramapo College in Mahwah, where she began her sophomore year last month. Over the summer she worked as a waitress at an Applebee's Restaurant.

"She was extremely proud of her Irish heritage and she had the smile and the twinkle in her eye," the family friend said. "She was a merry prankster, just like her father. She always had a smile, a laugh, a kind word, but she would set you up, trick you and she'd get over on you."

John Oldigs lived in Jersey City and worked at the Iron Monkey, a Jersey City bar and restaurant, while attending Montclair State University. He was devoted to classical music and was studying music at the university before his recent switch to public relations. He would have graduated this year.

His little sister, Katie, 23, said he brought every situation to life.

"He was very outgoing and he always put everyone in a better mood," Katie said yesterday. "He had a lot of things going for him. He played piano and sang and was taking guitar lessons as well. I think his music and his friends were most important to him."

Mass for all three victims will be Thursday at 11 a.m. at St. Mary's Church in Barnegat. Fire Director Jerome Cala said it's likely the Jersey City Fire Department will send a contingent.

"This is a real tragedy," Cala said yesterday. "It's sad enough to lose one family member.

"Our prayers go out to him and his entire family, and we are here to offer any support we can."

Cala described O'Callahan as "an excellent firefighter and fire officer."

Timothy O'Callahan's brother, Jersey City Police Lt. Robert O'Callahan, died in October 2000, after suffering a heart attack. Earlier that year he was hailed as a hero by then Police Chief William Thynne, for saving the life of fellow Officer Mark Inzinna, who was shot at twice by an alleged drug dealer and carjacker.

In recent months there have been at least two other incidents in Hudson County in which several members of a family died on road trips.

In August, Jersey City residents Christopher Jones Jr., 61, and his wife Rosa Lee Jones, 56, as well as their granddaughter, Alexea Ajee Jones, 10, were killed in a car crash in North Carolina on their way to a family reunion.

In May 2003, every family member Heights resident Daniel "Omar" Arellano had in the United States was killed in a car crash on Route 80 as they headed to a church revival.