s
s
Sections
Sections
Subscribe

In the past five years Patty O?Reilly of Sonoma has gone from a wife to widow, from a private person into a familiar face at San Quentin prison.

On a journey that began with heartbreak and fueled by deep religious faith, the mother of two young daughters finds herself these days focusing on hope.

She admits, she started off hating the man who killed ?my Danny.?

?But I was reminded by a good friend that everyone can change. I remembered that as a Christian I am called to forgive as I am forgiven,? she said.

No one is more amazed than she to find herself devoted to the last thing she ever considered doing ? volunteering as a surrogate victim in prison restorative justice programs.

?I remember thinking, you?re crazy,? said her daughter Erin O?Reilly, 17<NO1><NO>, now living in Washington, D.C., where she studies at the Washington School of Ballet.

?I thought, ?I?m living with insane people,?? she said <NO1>Erin O?Reilly <NO>of her first reaction. Today, she is proud of her mother. ?She?s getting a lot out of it and she?s doing something really positive for people in prison. They need help.?

Patty O?Reilly has participated in two pilot programs, the Victim-Offender Dialogue Program through the State of California and Victim-Offender Education Group at San Quentin State Prison. It was through such programs, which facilitate dialogue between victims and inmates, that O?Reilly eventually traveled to Folsom Prison to meet with and forgive Mike Albertson, 51, who is serving a 14-year prison sentence for killing Danny O?Reilly.

She will speak about her journey through the Santa Rosa Catholic Diocese Restorative Justice and Detention Ministries at a special crime victims Mass at St. Eugene?s on Farmers Lane Saturday at 11:15 a.m. The event ushers in National Crime Victims Week, April 26 through May 2.

It took three sets of wheels to shatter the dreams of the O?Reilly family on April 19, 2004, five years ago on Sunday.

First, the family car was parked at a tow yard following a fender-bender on April 18. That?s why 43-year-old Danny O?Reilly decided to ride his bike to and from work at Kendall-Jackson Wine Estates in Santa Rosa. He was a former ballet dancer-turned- environmentalist as serious about fitness as he was about keeping the air clean. He wore a bright yellow jacket as a safety measure.

It wasn?t enough.

The third set of wheels belonged to William Michael Albertson, a haunted man with a background of severe childhood abuse and steady alcohol abuse in adulthood.

At 5:20 p.m. O?Reilly was struck from behind as Albertson?s pick-up truck hit the guardrail on Mark West Springs Road near Riebli Road north of Santa Rosa. The devoted dad who played the cello and loved Halloween was thrown 25 feet, landing in the roadside weeds. He had been killed instantly.

That night Patty O?Reilly feared something was amiss as she tucked her daughters into bed. She prayed. Eventually she noticed a business card from the Sonoma County Sheriff?s Department jammed into her doorway.

She called, then waited, praying again.

A lone sheriff?s deputy informed of her husband?s death. They met in her garage so as not to disturb the sleeping children. She wanted to give the girls the gift of one more night of normalcy. She was consoled by her sister and family priest into the early morning hours.

The O?Reillys had met as young ballet dancers. She was very passionate about dance and recalls being impatient with complications of dating and romance ? especially within a ballet company.

?And, really, I was very picky,? she said. ?He kept coming over and chatting. Very low key. It took a long time for me to realize that he was interested in me.?

Their first date was in 1987; they married in 1991. The younger daughter, Siobhan, also is a ballerina in training, if still a bit of a tomboy at age 12.

By August 2004, Judge Elaine Rushing had given Albertson, 46, of Cobb the maximum term of 14 years for vehicular manslaughter in O?Reilly?s death.

Within a year of her father?s death, Siobhan asked her mother if she could send Albertson a card she?d made. She had drawn herself with tears falling down her face. She wrote: ?My name is Siobhan. I am 8-years-old. I am not mad at you.?

At that time her daughter also asked to meet him. ?It made me wonder where God was leading me in all of this,? Patty O?Reilly said. ?Where was this strange request coming from? Was the Holy Spirit nudging us along??

In the past few years, in addition to raising her girls and working as director of Sonoma Ballet Conservatory, O?Reilly has travelled to San Quentin several times to participate in mediated face-to-face encounters between victims and offenders. She stands in for victims that choose not to do so.

She brings family photo albums to tell her story, even singing songs that her husband sang to their children. It is heart-wrenching work with many tears. She finds the effort immensely satisfying.

?The fact is that everybody that is in jail ? the so called bad people ? they?re coming out,? said B. Sullivan of the Restorative Justice and Detention Ministries in the Diocese of Santa Rosa. ?Don?t you want people going in and getting rehabilitation? They?ll be back.?

In 2007, Patty O?Reilly was given a Champion of Courage Award by the Sonoma County District Attorney?s office for her work in restorative justice.

In the five years since the death of her husband, O?Reilly and her daughters have forgiven. Their wish for the man responsible for that death is that he one day attains his own peace.

They said there are days when it?s a beautiful, wonderful world. Yet reminders of their loss are just beyond their own driveway.

?I always pass cyclists with a very wide berth,? said Patty O?Reilly. ?I always pray they arrive home safe.?