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San Diego sailor dies after being struck by car

Before his death earlier this month, Quartermaster 2nd Class Thomas R. O’Connor had been jackrabbit hunting with his shipmate and friend, Electronics Technician 2nd Class David Pierce.

Both assigned to the guided-missile destroyer John Finn, they had spent days in California’s Sawtooth Mountains Wilderness before starting back for San Diego around 1:30 p.m. on Feb. 13.

O’Connor pulled over on Interstate 8 near Alpine to adjust some items in the bed of his pickup truck, according to Pierce and the California Highway Patrol.

He was standing near the back of the truck when a 70-year-old man driving a Lincoln MKZ luxury sedan drifted from the right lane and on to the shoulder, striking the sailor, the highway patrol reported.

The 25-year-old sustained “major injuries” and was flown to Sharp Memorial Hospital in San Diego, where he died, according to CHP.

Pierce told Navy Times this week that he was still in shock over the loss of his friend, a man he called “the most well-read 25-year-old I ever met.” But he takes comfort in the fact that O’Connor didn’t suffer alone.

“He was with someone who loved him at the end,” Pierce said.

The driver of the car that struck O’Connor remained at the scene and has cooperated with authorities during the ongoing investigation. No charges have been filed, according to CHP.

O’Connor married his wife, Shannah, in September, his father — Rory O’Connor — told Navy Times.

The petty officer was a swimmer who competed in lifeguard competitions while growing up in Florida, said his dad, a Navy veteran.

His son made E-5 inside of two years and encouraged others to be their best, the father added.

“That’s who he’s been consistently, somebody you wanted as a friend,” he said.

The family is planning a celebration of life ceremony for O’Connor in Florida in April.

A memorial rendering of Quartermaster 2nd Class Thomas R. O'Connor. His dad says they plan to put it on memorial t-shirts. (Rory O'Connor)
A memorial rendering of Quartermaster 2nd Class Thomas R. O'Connor. His dad says they plan to put it on memorial t-shirts. (Rory O'Connor)

Naval Surface Forces spokesman Cmdr. Patrick Evans said the commanding officer and crew of the young sailor’s destroyer were saddened by the death of their shipmate.

"They have been in close communications with the family and have provided support in their time of need,” Evans added.

O’Connor arrived at warship in early 2018 and soon became a regular with the Del Mar Bodysurfing Club, according to Vince Askey, the group’s leader.

“Everybody considered him to be a very special person,” Askey said. “He was a very graceful surfer in the water and equally graceful and impressive as a person.”

“He was kind, he was honest, he was helpful, he was humble,” Askey said. “He was forthright, he was confident, he was exceptional in ability, he was soft spoken and unassuming.

“It’s always seems the best are taken young.”

Tom's shipmates on the USS John Finn ship out tomorrow on deployment. Godspeed, men. Live like Tom!

Posted by Del Mar BodySurfing Club on Sunday, February 23, 2020
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