During the early morning of Sunday, July 11, 1998, Officer Claire Connelly was investigating a traffic collision on a roadway in the city of Riverside when she was struck by a drunk motorist. The drunk driver’s vehicle then collided with a parked tow truck, injuring the tow truck driver. Officer Connelly suffered head, pelvic and abdominal injuries. The tow truck driver, Alejandro Garcia, was able to use Officer Connelly’s police car radio to call for help. Mr. Garcia suffered knee and other moderate injuries as a result of the collision.

John Connelly and Claire, Christmas 1996Officer Connelly was removed from life support on July 12, 1998, becoming the Riverside Police Department’s first female police officer to die in the line of duty. She was Riverside’s 11th officer to be killed while on duty. Officer Connelly had been with the police department for 18 months at her time of death; she had been assigned to a single officer squad car for the last six weeks.

Riverside Police Chief Gerald Carroll, who was at the hospital most of the day following the accident talking to Connelly's family and colleagues, said "She was a very bright warm, well-liked young person."

Sgt. Don Taulli stated "She's worked really well with everybody. She was a very nice person and was on her way to being a very good cop."

At her funeral on July 17, attended by more than one thousand people including family, officers, friends and community members, speakers urged mourners not to hate Barbary, the woman accused of causing Claire with her nephew, Christopher, in 1991Connelly's death. Her sister, Mary Anne Connelly, told the audience "Any hatred I have would not hurt her. It would destroy me. I do not believe that she intended to kill anyone when she got into the car that night." Ms. Connelly spoke of poems and sayings that her sister loved. One spoke of believing in the sun, even when it didn't shine and believing in God, even when he is silent. "Today, it feels like God is silent," she tearfully stated.

Connelly's father, John, had a business associate and friend read his words at the eulogy. He urged those at the service to treat everyone they meet on his daughter's funeral as if that stranger would die at midnight. The bubbly, bright, and happy Connelly would have liked that, her father said.

Connelly's father's friend ended by saying, "Heaven is a happier place with Claire controlling the clouds today."

Toward the end of the graveside service, a touching moment showed another side of Connelly as members of an Alcoholics Anonymous group from Palm Springs called her an inspiration. In steady, compassionate voices, the group recited the 27 words that changed their lives, and the life of Claire Connelly, a woman with whom they strongly identified, despite their diverse backgrounds.

Claire "Calm" Connelly celebrating her first Solo flight, October 2, 1987Members of the Alcoholics Anonymous group described Connelly's 14 years of sobriety as a worthy goal they intended to pursue. They said that she continued to attend the Palm Springs group's meetings even though she had started a new life in Riverside.

Connelly's father said he was pleasantly surprised by the AA members who attended the ceremony. He said his daughter was a recovering alcoholic who was active in the group as a "sponsor," or mentor, for others.

Connelly, who was born in New Orleans, La., lived in Moreno Valley and had lived in Riverside County for 22 years. Connelly's mother, Carole Nagengast, said, "There was no holding her down. She planned to return to school to get a master's degree in education or psychology. She wanted to become a forensic psychologist. She had a deep sense of service to the community. Claire Connelly's school picture, age 5, 1973She always wanted to make a difference in the world and she did." She was an avid skier, pilot and runner. She had earned an associate's degree from Riverside Community College and graduated from California State University, San Bernardino, with a degree in psychology in 1995.

In addition to her parents and sister, Connelly is survived by her stepfather, Michael Kearney; stepmother, Gisela Connelly; brother, John Connelly Jr.; grandparents Walter and Mary Nagengast and Ellen Kearney; and nephews Seth, John II, Christopher and Daniel Connelly.

The family asks that contributions be made to the Claire Nicole Connelly Scholarship Foundation through the Riverside Police Department, 4102 Orange Street, Riverside, CA 92501, (951) 826-5940. The fund will benefit children of police officers.

Officer Claire Connelly

Riverside Police Department Safe In His Arms Memorial

Officer Claire Connelly was Riverside first female officer to be killed in the line of duty.