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.