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Friday, February 23rd, 2018

Kevin O’Connor


March 6, 1987 –
June 18, 2002

My son’s name is Kevin O’Connor. He was fifteen years only when he died. Kevin was a very family-oriented young man and worked in our family business. He played football and baseball and loved the Mets and the Jets. He hunted, fished and camped. We own and operate an outdoor power equipment business. June 18, 2002, was Kevin’s last day of 9th grade. He was going to school that day to take his earth science regents exams and then work the remainder of the day at our store. His words before he left the house that morning were I’ll call you from school when I am done so you could pick me up. I remember the day as it was yesterday. It will always feel like yesterday to me and in one respect I never want to lose that feeling because it makes me feel closer to him.

It was a beautiful day – not a cloud in the sky. The whole family was very excited about the upcoming weekend because we had just purchased a boat and we planned a long weekend in Lake George. When you own your own business you don’t get away that often and just prior to Kevin’s death we made a commitment to make sure we take more time for family. When Kevin was very little all his time was spent at our store and we very rarely went on vacation. That was going to change or so we thought. To our surprise, Kevin finished his test early and hopped the school bus that dropped him off in from of the store. I happened to look out our office window which faced State Rt. 28, a major route thru the Catskills and saw him walking up our driveway with this big smile on his face and a large pizza box. He bought us all lunch. I knew he was happy and looking forward to the summer months ahead. We had lunch, talked about the test and what he was going to be doing at work. Kevin was working at the store to save money for his first car. My husband had just given him is own lawn tractor and trimmer to do the yard work at our store. That was one of his responsibilities. After lunch he prepped the tractor and proceeded to mow the front lawn. It took Kevin about two hours to finish the mowing and he then had the trim work to do. He came into the office to take a break and a drink. He loved Snapple ice tea and always took the bottle and shook it real hard by smacking the bottom. I always asked why he did that. It’s funny how you remember things like that. He asked whether the parts to the chain saw he was working on the day before had come in from the supplier so he could finish the repair job. I said no but they might be here with the UPS delivery.

My husband had been teaching him the repair end of the business and prior to this repair he had learned how to tear down and put back an entire chain saw. I can remember how excited he was when he started the saw and proud he was of his work. After he finished his Snapple he told me he was going to finish the trim work. Kevin went out back to put on his safety equipment because we always taught him the importance of safety. That was the last I saw or talked to him alive. About forty five minutes later the FedEx driver pulled into our parking lot and parked the truck right in front of our office window which blocked the view to our front yard. We were having a conversation with the driver about being attacked by a dog the day before when we heard this bang. My husband and I and the Fed-ex driver thought there was an accident on Route 28. We all ran to the door but could not see any cars on the highway. I looked over to our driveway and saw a body lying in the middle of the drive way. At first I could not determine who it was and then realized OH MY GOD, its KEVIN. We could not get out our front door fast enough. We were in slow motion. We ran to our son but it was too late. His eyes were fixed and dilated; he was bleeding from the head. His chest was going up and I will never forget the sound of his breathing – a gurgling sound. Later I learned it was blood from his internal injuries. I just kept screaming and asking if he was dead over and over again but nobody would tell me. They call for the MedEvac unit but then called it off. I kept asking why did they call off the helicopter, but nobody would tell me.

My husband and I watched our son die before our eyes. Kevin lay in our driveway for over two hours while we waited for the coroner who happened to be at another fatality. Kevin Died of massive head and brain injuries at 2:42 pm on June 18, 2002. At 7:00 pm we entered my in-laws house where our 11 year old daughter and 4 year old son had to be told they would never see their older brother again. Two days later my husband and I were trying to decide what casket and what Kevin would wear. I could not believe this is happening. It felt like a dream and still does some days. Over 1000 family, friends and community members turn out to say good-bye to my son. Please visit www.rememberingkevin.com. There are many pictures of Kevin and his family.

We learned after the accident that the driver that killed Kevin was an on-duty school bus driver that drove off the road 200 times before striking and killing Kevin. He had fallen asleep at the wheel. It was determined that he had undiagnosed severe obstructive sleep apnea. He was also uncertified to drive the school vehicle at the time of the accident for his diabetic condition. The school bus driver was a driver for our own school district. The following year I ran and won a seat on the school board and am now the Vice President. Our transportation department has been re-organized with many new safety procedures. I have been an advocate for drowsy driving ever since. My first approach was to lobby in Albany for legislation to hold people accountable for falling asleep at the wheel but learned very quickly that without being able to measure drowsy driving it would be hard for laws to be passed. I turned my approach to educating the public on drowsy driving prevention, signs and counter measures.

— Submitted by Cindy O’Connor, Kevin’s mother

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