More than 700 law enforcement officers from throughout California gathered in Camarillo to pay tribute to a 34-year-old Ventura County CHP officer who was killed Nov. 15, 1990 when a car struck his motorcycle.
James Christopher O’Connor was remembered by friends and fellow officers at his funeral services as a friendly man with a dry wit and a calm manner. The six-year veteran of the California Highway Patrol often helped officers with less experience, said Sgt. Dane Hayward, O’Connor’s good friend and his supervising officer.
O’Connor also assisted motorists in changing tires and doggedly pursued accident investigations. But O’Connor was known most for his motorcycle prowess, Hayward said in his eulogy. “There was a standing line that he might not be able to get out of the parking lot in a car without hitting something, but put him on a cycle, and he could get across the Grand Canyon on a tightrope,” Hayward said. It was that grace on the motorcycle that made his death so ironic, Hayward said.
O’Connor died as he and three fellow officers were returning from a motorcycle training session in Santa Maria, CHP officials said. “A few minutes later, his ride was over,” Hayward said. O’Connor was riding in the left rear position of a box formation with the other officers on California 154 outside Santa Ynez when a car veered into the path of the motorcyclists, officials said.
Three officers managed to swerve, but O’Connor was struck head-on and thrown 60 feet, his helmet knocked loose by the impact, the CHP said. He was dead on arrival at Santa Ynez Valley Hospital.
The driver of the car, Ella Harrison, 78, of Solvang, and her husband, Frederick, 79, suffered minor injuries. Mrs. Harrison was not cited in the incident.
O’Connor joined the CHP in late 1982 and was assigned to western San Fernando Valley. He worked there with his wife, Carla, also a CHP officer, until he was transferred to Ventura County in August, 1989.
Carla O’Connor and her three children Evelyn Bittner, 10, Elaine Bittner, 11, and Elizabeth Bittner, 15, were joined by about 100 friends and relatives at the St. Mary Magdalen Church for the funeral services.
O’Connor is the fourth CHP officer in Ventura County to be killed in the line of duty, CHP Officer Jim Utter said.