The family of Shawn O'Donnell, who was born and raised in Danville, is grieving her death Wednesday morning on the other side of the country.
"She managed to come out of India during COVID, and she gets hit by a truck on her bike in a blind spot," her mother, Danville resident Mary O'Donnell, said in an interview Thursday.
Shawn O'Donnell, 40, was identified as the bicyclist who was struck and killed by a truck in Washington, D.C. shortly after 8 a.m. Wednesday morning. The news was first reported by the Washington Post early Thursday.
According to the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD), a preliminary investigation into the collision in the northwest part of the nation's capital confirmed that she had been traveling in the same direction as a Mack truck on its right side when she was struck as the truck made a right-hand turn.
"The bicyclist attempted to ride ahead of the Mack truck and was struck by the front passenger side of the truck, causing significant injuries," MPD officials said in a statement.
Detectives were still investigating the circumstances of Shawn O'Donnell's death as of Thursday afternoon.
Mary O'Donnell characterized her daughter as a "woman of service, always thinking of others." She said this was what had brought her daughter to work and live on the other side of the country while working as a diplomat with the U.S. Department of State.
"Thirty minutes after the truck hit her, and she was dead -- a girl who I carried under my heart for nine months, and I carried in my heart for 40 years, and now that part of my heart will never be fixed," Mary O'Donnell said. "It's just gone."
Although Shawn O'Donnell's academic and career trajectory took her around the world and saw her living thousands of miles away from her mother during her work with the state department, Mary O'Donnell noted that her roots were here in the San Ramon Valley.
"She was born in Kaiser Walnut Creek," Mary O'Donnell said. "Her whole life has been here. She didn't really leave this area until she went to Spain."
After studying abroad in Spain, Shawn O'Donnell returned to the Bay Area to attend U.C. Berkeley, where she studied history and Middle Eastern studies and was on the crew team. She went on to earn a Masters of Public Policy from the University of Minnesota before several immersion programs in Arabic.
"The country really lost someone who gave herself all the time," Mary O'Donnell said. "All her time was in service to others."
Shawn O'Donnell had worked as an account manager at Google for two years after graduating from UC Berkeley. Her mother said that while Shawn O'Donnell had enjoyed her job with the company, she had left and ultimately gone to Washington D.C. out of a desire to have more of an impact on the world.
She went on to work as a strategist at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, then for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, before landing at the state department as a foreign service officer in 2019.
Given the timing and location of the collision, it appears that Shawn O'Donnell was commuting to work at the time of her death.
"It's more than I can bear," Mary O'Donnell said. "In the military, like I was ... you sign up to be in harm's way. We sign up to try to be green, by riding a bicycle, and now she will have no physical presence ever again. No one can ever fix that."
Mary O'Donnell, who served 41 years in the U.S. Coast Guard, said her daughter had followed in those footsteps in serving the country via her own route -- and the two having always shared a close bond.
Despite being in the throes of shock and grief at the loss of her child this week, Mary O'Donnell said that she was taking the opportunity to speak to the media out of a desire for action from state and local officials that would promote safety for bicyclists and prevent future deaths.
"I'm talking to reporters because I don't want Shawn's death to be yesterday's news," Mary O'Donnell said. "I consider these murders, not accidents. But maybe if there's enough focus on this, they'll say trucks can't make a right turn on red."
Mary O'Donnell said that she hoped to see charges brought against the driver who'd struck her daughter, upon the completion of a full investigation by police. She added that she hoped enforcing penalties for pedestrian and bicyclist deaths could guide policy change that would address the dangers posed by vehicular collisions, at the local and national level.
"She was just a light," Mary O'Donnell said. "She was a bit of laughter, and a bright light who had so much more to live for and so much more to give, and it was stolen because people with huge cars, huge trucks ... in this case they're no different from a drunk driver, but we treat the drunk drivers and people who have blind spots differently. They both took somebody's life because of their carelessness, because of their responsibility."