ATLANTIC CITY , N.J., April 16, 2018 /PRNewswire/ -- Kelly Ann McDowell, the 41-year-old Galloway woman who died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound on April 17, 2017, would be alive if her live-in Ventnor, NJ police sergeant-boyfriend had not left his loaded, unsecured service weapon in the house they shared with their combined five children, according to lawsuits filed today in Superior Court of New Jersey/Atlantic County by attorneys for Ms. McDowell's parents (administrators of her estate) and her teenage son. The D'Amato Law Firm represents the parents; Barry, Corrado, Grassi & Gillin-Schwartz, PC represent the son. Representatives of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, which has called gun suicides in America a 'national tragedy', also participated in the news conference today at which the filings were announced.
Kevin and Carol McDowell, Ms. McDowell's parents and administrators of her estate, assert in the lawsuit (SCNJ/No. ATL-L-000793-18) that Ventnor Sgt. Francisco (Frank) O'Neill, a certified firearms instructors, violated departmental firearms-safety procedures, and was grossly negligent in failing to keep his service Glock secured at all times. The complaint claims that the sergeant, who left his weapon in the couple's bedroom closet, was fully aware that Ms. McDowell was clinically depressed and under care for depression. The couple had been living together for about six months at the time of Ms. McDowell's death. The working, single mother had confided to family members the relationship was not working out and that she was planning on leaving. She was shocked to learn from Sgt. O'Neill on the morning of the incident that he was taking a trip to Florida, leaving her responsible for the five children in the household. At the time of the incident, Ms. McDowell's children, two sons and a daughter, ranged in age from 7 to 18 Sgt. O'Neill's children were 13 and 17. Two brothers and a sister, as well as both her grandmothers also survive Kelly.
"Sgt. O'Neill was specifically trained to not only properly secure his gun when it was not in use – including in the home he shared with Kelly and their five children – but he also was trained to recognize mental health conditions such as those from which Kelly suffered," according to attorney Paul R. D'Amato. "This tragedy in a small New Jersey town is an American tragedy, magnified because of the circumstances, and it should have never occurred. Kelly's parents feel strongly that the only way to prevent similar senseless deaths is to hold all those responsible for Kelly's suicide fully accountable through a jury trial."
Mr. D'Amato added, "This was not just an incidental mistake, it was a monumental failure on his part that caused Kelly's death and also jeopardized the safety of their children."
"Every single day in America, 58 people commit suicide with a gun. That's nearly two-thirds of all gun deaths in our country, and that is an absolute national tragedy," stated Brady Center co-president Kris Brown. "Furthermore, guns lead to more than half of all suicides. These may not grab the same attention as mass shootings, but suicides devastate families like Ms. McDowell's every day. Even more than depression or substance abuse, the strongest predictor of someone committing suicide is the presence of a gun in the home. She added, "Gun owners must do all they can to store guns responsibly and safely, and prevent people at risk of suicide from obtaining them."
"Kelly was an incredible daughter and loving mother," said her parents. "We owe it to her and her children to do everything we can to obtain justice and raise awareness about what can happen when there's that potentially lethal combination of mental illness and unsecured loaded guns in a home."
Two of the five children were home at the time of the incident. The complaint also states that applicable local and state firearms regulations, which Sgt. O'Neill was duty bound to follow, clearly state that an officer's weapon "shall never be left unsecured."
Attorney Oliver Barry said on behalf of Kelly's son Ryan Strazzeri, "He suffered the horrifying, life-altering experience of coming upon his mother just moments after she fatally shot herself in the head. The complaint (SCNJ No. ATL-L-000794-18) alleges Sgt. O'Neill's conduct – that included leaving his loaded gun in plain sight and dangerously close to a deeply depressed individual - also violated Ryan's constitutional and civil rights." Mr. Barry added, "State law requires that no handgun shall be delivered to any person unless it is accompanied by a trigger lock or other safe storage device."
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SOURCE D'Amato Law Firm