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Man sentenced in fatal crash

2006-09-22T00:00:00Z Man sentenced in fatal crashCHARLES FIEGL
Glens Falls Post-Star
September 22, 2006 12:00 am  • 

cfiegl@poststar.com

BALLSTON SPA - A 35-year-old man was sentenced Thursday to serve up to 6 years in prison for causing an accident that killed a Saratoga Springs mother in January.

Christopher N. McNally admitted in Saratoga County Court he took too many prescription painkillers and muscle relaxers the morning of the Jan. 5 accident on Route 9 that killed 33-year-old Melanie O'Donnell.

McNally then apologized to O'Donnell's family, which included her 2-year-old son, and friends. He said he felt terrible for what he had done.

"I am sorry for your loss. … I ask for God and you to forgive me," McNally said.

At 7 a.m. Jan. 5, McNally was driving north on Route 9, near the Weathervane Restaurant, when he crossed into the other lane. His car struck a vehicle, then landed on a second vehicle, which was driven by George O'Donnell, said special prosecutor George Dentes, of the New York Prosecutors Training Institute. Melanie O'Donnell was in the passenger seat, he said. George O'Donnell and two others were injured in the accident.

McNally's lawyer, Gregory Cholakis of Troy, said McNally was prescribed medication to relieve back pain. The night before the accident, McNally slipped on ice and aggravated his back injuries, Cholakis said. McNally then took more Percocet and Soma medications than were prescribed to him.

George O'Donnell told the court before sentencing he was on his way to drop off his wife at the Veterans Affairs hospital in Albany. Melanie O'Donnell was a psychologist who helped counsel veterans, he said.

She was pursuing a doctorate in clinical psychology.

There are obvious victims as a result of the crash, but there are many others who will never meet Melanie or receive her counsel who are also victims, he said.

Melanie O'Donnell's sister, Michelle Merola, told the court "a part of my soul has been ripped away and I know I'm not alone." O'Donnell had a lot of life to live ahead of her, Merola said.

After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, O'Donnell worked with a crisis response team in Somerset County, Pa., and at the Pentagon in Washington. She then spent weeks in New York City helping grieving families visit the World Trade Center site to cope with their losses.

"Now there is one less person in our life to help us," George O'Donnell said.

Saratoga County Court Judge Jerry Scarano Jr. sentenced McNally to 2 to 6 years in prison for second-degree vehicular manslaughter, a felony. McNally pleaded guilty July 20 to charges of second-degree vehicular manslaughter, third-degree assault and driving while ability impaired by drugs.

Saratoga County District Attorney James Murphy III and Saratoga County Public Defender John Ciulla recused themselves from the case because O'Donnell's mother, Vicki Merola, is the crime victims advocate in Murphy's office.

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