A 16-year-old — who struck and killed Matthew O’Neill as he bicycled west along a narrow, straight stretch of Foxen Canyon Road in Santa Maria last month — has been charged with misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter and two driving infractions. His name is being withheld as he is a juvenile, but he is known to be the son of former lieutenant governor Abel Maldonado, a Santa Maria resident. The teen was driving westbound in a Chevy 3500 pickup truck hauling a horse trailer at about 7:30 p.m. on August 9 when he apparently clipped O’Neill, 33, who died at the scene. Witnesses said O’Neill was on the far right edge of the road and was well-lit with reflectors and bike lights. Maldonado’s other son, 18-year-old Nicolas, was the only passenger in the truck.

Matthew O’Neill
Courtesy Photo

The young driver has been charged in juvenile court, but the sentence he could face is unknown. The District Attorney’s Office does not release the specifics of a juvenile case. The case is scheduled for arraignment on Friday in Santa Maria.

State law prohibits juvenile drivers who have been driving for less than a year from transporting passengers under the age of 20 unless a parent, guardian, or other licensed driver 25 years old or older is in the vehicle with them. (Exceptions with a signed note are permitted). Maldonado has been charged with non-compliance with driving terms and restrictions. He also is charged with driving a commercial vehicle without a license.

Abel Maldonado served as Santa Maria mayor in the 1990s and ran for Congress in 2012. Two years ago, his wife and son Nicolas were involved in a fatal accident also on Foxen Canyon Road. Authorities determined a man driving a Cadillac was high on meth and failed to yield at a cross street when he struck the two.

O’Neill, who was an avid long-distance cyclist, was a graduate student studying disabilities and risk studies at UCSB. A native of Chula Vista, O’Neill lived in Carpinteria with his fiancée, who is a special education teacher. “Matthew was absolutely amazing.” said his fiancée, Jennie Passwater. “That sounds cliché, but he really was. He would take the shirt off his back for anybody.”

On September 6, about 100 people took part in a memorial bike ride from Rincon fire station to Carpinteria. A small service at UCSB is tentatively planned for October. A Facebook page created in his memory has close to 2,000 followers. “Matthew would have wanted something really positive to come out of this. Not with mal intent or revenge,” said Passwater. “It was a very bad accident for everybody.”


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