By NANETTE LoBIONDO GALLOWAY
VENTNOR – City officials confirmed that two lawsuits filed by family members of a woman who took her own life using her police officer boyfriend’s service revolver were settled by the city’s Joint Municipal Insurance Fund.
“It was not us that settled,” Mayor Lance Landgraf said. “It was the JIF that settled the lawsuits.”
Both Landgraf and Commissioner of Public Safety Tim Krieble called the incident involving then-Sgt. Frank O’Neill and his girlfriend Kelly Ann McDowell, 40, in their Galloway Township home, “a tragic event” and they expressed sympathies to all of McDowell’s loved ones.
The lawsuits were filed in Superior Court in April 2018 by the decedent’s parents Kevin R. and Carol McDowell and her biological son Ryan E. Strazzeri, all of Galloway Township, calling for jury trials.
The family members alleged that the relationship between McDowell and O’Neill had deteriorated, and that she had been diagnosed in March 2017 as being severely depressed with anxiety as she struggled with family life after the couple moved in together with their children.
The lawsuit states that O’Neill went on a hastily arranged trip to Florida and left his .45 caliber Glock semi-automatic service pistol in plain sight on the floor of their bedroom closet. McDowell used the pistol to take her life on April 27, 2017. Her son Ryan, then age 18, was at home, heard the shot and discovered what his mother had done.
The lawsuits stated that O’Neill was professionally trained to secure his weapon at all times, had ample mental health and domestic violence training, and that failing to secure his weapon was so grossly negligent and egregious that it denied her son of his right to life and liberty.
The City of Ventnor was also named in the lawsuit.
The decedent’s parents made similar claims seeking compensatory damages and legal fees.
According to the settlement agreements to avoid further litigation, none of the parties named in the lawsuits admitted any guilt, fault, blame or wrongdoing.
The lawsuits settled by the JIF total $2 million and are payable to her estate and her son over many years with final payments made in 2048.
The decedent’s parents were represented by attorney Paul R. D’Amato of Egg Harbor Township, and Strazzeri was represented by Oliver T. Barry of Wildwood.
Landgraf said the settlement agreement would not have an impact on Ventnor taxpayers.
“If there is any contribution from the city toward the settlement it would be a small deductible,” Landgraf said.
O’Neill, a 22-year veteran of the Police Department, was promoted to the rank of lieutenant under former Police Chief Douglas Biagi on April 14, 2019.
Current Police Chief Joseph Fussner declined commenting on the case other than to say O’Neill is a good officer.
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