Stanislaus County crime tech dies after being hit by vehicle in Hughson

12/30/2011 9:36 AM

12/30/2011 5:06 PM

Mary Donahou was a loving mother, active community member and highly regarded crime-scene technician with the Stanislaus County Sheriff's Department.

"She was very personable, fun, outgoing, and loved seeing people smile and laugh," said friend BillyBob Muirhead, chaplain with the Ceres Police Department.

Donahou, 46, of Ceres, was struck and killed by a vehicle early Friday morning while investigating a shooting in Hughson, authorities said. She was a nine-year employee of the Sheriff's Department.

The driver of the vehicle is a Turlock Police Department dispatcher who was on her way to work.

Donahou was on Santa Fe Avenue just south of Charles Road at about 6:45 a.m. when she was struck by the front left portion of the sports utility vehicle driven by Elizabeth Quiroga, 38, of Hughson, according to the California Highway Patrol.

Donahou suffered major head injuries and was taken to a nearby hospital, where she was pronounced dead.

"It's not very often that we lose a family member at the sheriff's office in the line of duty," said Sheriff Adam Christianson. "It is a tragedy when it happens and in this case it is simply a tragic accident."

Christianson said Donahou was loved and well-respected by her fellow employees. Her personnel file, he said, is full of commendations from citizens and supervisors.

She is survived by her parents, sisters and 12-year-old son, Jake.

"Our hearts are heavy, our thoughts and prayers are with Mary's family and everyone here at the sheriff's office," he said during an emotional press conference at department headquarters on West Hackett Road.

Quiroga, driving a 2000 Suzuki Grand Vitara, was heading south on Santa Fe at about 35 mph in clear, but dark conditions, according to Eric Parsons of the CHP, which is investigating the accident.

The posted speed limit is 45 mph.

Quiroga told investigators she did not see Donahou until the last moment. There were no skid marks in the road indicating she had tried to brake.

Donahou was wearing the department's standard dark clothing, including a black jacket that was on the roadway near her camera and other debris as investigators worked the scene throughout the morning.

Quiroga, who was not injured, cooperated with officers.

A Bee reporter went to the Quiroga's home Friday. A man describing himself as a housesitter said the owners were not home. Attempts to reach Quiroga by phone Friday also were unsuccessful.

Donahou was at the scene to gather evidence from an early morning drive-by shooting, Christianson said. Nobody was injured in the shooting, but bullets struck the house.

Crime technicians are called to the scene to photograph evidence and perform other duties.

Her vehicle was parked on the west side of Santa Fe. There was one deputy at the house, which is across the street.

It's not known if Donahou was collecting evidence in the roadway or simply walking across the street when she was struck.

Donahou had arrived there 15 minutes before the accident. She had not placed in the road evidence markers tied to the shooting, and no shell casings were found in the road.

Parsons said he did not know if the deputy, who was inside the house at the time of the accident, had his vehicle's lights on.

Sheriff's Department Sgt. Anthony Bejaran said there was no traffic control at the time. Traffic control is generally reserved for incidents involving injuries, he said.

Hours before the accident, Donahou was celebrating her son Jake's 12th birthday, Muirhead said.

His 9-year-old son Jarred attended the party, which started with laser tag and ended with a barbecue at Donahou's Ceres home.

"She was awesome with her son," Muirhead said. "If you want to epitomize the mother-son relationship, they had one."

Muirhead and Donahou met when their sons joined Cub Scouts about five years ago. When Jarred was 6 and Jake was 9, the Scouts went on a trip to Great America on a cold October day. Jarred wanted to ride one of the water slides but didn't want to go alone.

Donahou was the only adult willing to brave the cold with Jarred, Muirhead said.

"She said, 'Jarred, would you like to ride the slide with me?' and he said 'Yep, but I got to warn you, I'm a squeezer,' " Muirhead said.

Since then, Muirhead said Donahou always referred to Jarred as "squeezer."

Just two weeks ago, Donahou appeared on the front page of The Bee for her work with the "Shop With a Cop" program, which pairs underprivileged youths with community leaders for a holiday shopping spree.

Donahou appeared in the photo with 4-year-old Marita Phillips, who was showing off a new dress.

Services for Donahou are scheduled for some time next week.

Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada contributed to this report.

Bee staff writer Erin Tracy can be reached at etracy@modbee.com or (209)578-2366.

Raw video from scene (Brian Clark/bclark@modbee.com)

Video from press conference (Stanislaus County Sheriff's Department)



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