Firefighter facing DUI, not manslaughter charge in fatal motorcycle wreck

Justin Petrucelli

Justin Petrucelli

A Big Corkscrew Island firefighter faces a misdemeanor DUI charge — but not a felony DUI manslaughter charge — in a fatal December 2011 motorcycle crash that killed a co-worker.

Florida Highway Patrol troopers arrested Joseph O'Callaghan, 33, on Friday, alleging he had a blood alcohol content of 0.143 when he rear-ended Justin Petrucelli on a dark road in Golden Gate Estates. Petrucelli, 25, of Golden Gate Estates, died Jan. 4, five days after the crash.

Although investigators said O'Callaghan was drunk, there wasn't enough evidence to arrest on a DUI manslaughter charge, FHP Lt. Conner Cardwell said Monday. Petrucelli abruptly stopped in front of O'Callaghan, and he had a malfunctioning brake light, investigators found.

"The investigator felt he was not able to prove, or develop enough probable cause to prove, that Mr. O'Callaghan had a causational role in the crash," Cardwell said.

Troopers have said Petrucelli was under the influence of alcohol, but his BAC wasn't available Monday, Cardwell said.

Petrucelli's father, David, said Monday he supports the decision not to make a DUI manslaughter arrest.

"The only thing Joseph is guilty of is being careless," David Petrucelli said. "I don't think it's worthy of being charged with manslaughter for that. They were friends, after all."

Troopers said O'Callaghan was riding his 2006 Harley Davidson when Petrucelli, on a 2011 Harley Davidson, abruptly braked in front of him on the 4400 block of 20th Avenue Northeast. Two witnesses said Petrucelli quickly stopped because he rode past his destination — a party where friends were watching a pay-per-view boxing match.

Both riders were flown to Lee Memorial Hospital, where Petrucelli was later pronounced dead.

A press release issued immediately after the crash indicated O'Callaghan failed to see Petrucelli stopped in front of him because he was distracted by a group of people trying to get his attention. Further investigation, however, showed that account was incorrect, Cardwell said.

O'Callaghan's lawyer, Michelle Hill, said she wasn't expecting a DUI manslaughter arrest.

"It looked pretty obvious from the beginning that there were some issues as to causation," Hill said. "Because of that, I thought what he was charged with is what I had expected."

Hill said O'Callaghan, a lieutenant paramedic, was seriously injured in the crash and continues to recover from a brain injury. He returned to duty for Big Corkscrew Island in mid-April after being cleared by doctors.

"He's getting better, but he's definitely not 100 percent," Hill said. "It's pretty remarkable that he's still with us, to be honest."

O'Callaghan was released Friday on $1,000 bond. His arraignment is scheduled for Aug. 1.

Big Corkscrew Island officials opened an internal investigation Monday following O'Callaghan's arrest, Chief Rita Greenberg said. O'Callaghan hasn't been disciplined since the crash and will continue to work pending the investigation's outcome.

O'Callaghan wasn't on duty at the time of the crash, Greenberg said.

"We're still doing some internal investigation on our own," she said, "so I'm not willing to speculate any further on what actions we'll be taking."

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