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Guelph's downtown police officer planning to return 'better than ever' following serious collision

Const. Mark O'Connell was hit by an alleged drunk driver in early August and his heart stopped beating, but he says the incident has made him a better person and officer
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Const. Mark O'Connell pictured in Downtown Guelph last January. Tony Saxon/GuelphToday file photo

Two days after being released from hospital, Guelph police constable Mark O’Connell knocked on the door of the man who had put him there.

O’Connell, whose heart stopped beating in the emergency room following an Aug. 6 off-duty collision on Imperial Road, wanted to talk to the man who had hit him that day. A man later charged with impaired driving.

“His wife answered the door and I said ‘I’m Mark O’Connell,” he said, recounting the visit.

“She said ‘I know.’ I guess she had Googled my name and knew I was a police officer.”

O’Connell told the woman he wasn’t at her door as a policeman. He was there to talk to her husband.

“I told him ‘I forgive you.”

The two men hugged and “shed some tears.”

“It’s easy to hate. It’s a whole lot better to forgive,” said O'Connell, a burly fire-hydrant of a man with a gruff demeanour that belies a softer centre.

O’Connell, one of the Guelph Police Service’s higher-profile officers due to his role the past few years as its Downtown Guelph liason officer, says that despite the almost dire consequences of the incident, it has changed his life for good.

“I can’t hold hate in my heart. He’s a very, very good person,” O’Connell, 53, said of the other driver. “I owed it to myself and I owed it to this guy to forgive him.

“It would be easy to come out of this as an angry or bitter person, but I’ve come out of this a better person, I’m convinced of that.”

He later visited the fire hall, paramedic station and 911 dispatch centre to offer thanks to those that helped him that day.

O'Connell said the incident has changed the way he looks at himself and others, including people in his life that he perhaps didn’t fully appreciate.

“I’m overwhelmed by the love and support shown me and my family. We take a lot of things for granted in life. I don’t think I appreciated life as much as I should,” he said.

On the day of the collision, O’Connell had popped out to get some gas for his lawnmower. He was driving along Imperial Road, waved to someone he knew, then was suddenly ran into by a car heading in the other direction.

That 74-year-old driver of that car was later charged with impaired driving. That aspect remains before the courts.

O’Connell was conscious and speaking to first responders at the scene before things suddenly took a turn for the worse and his heart stopped beating on the way to the hospital. He was revived in the emergency room.

“I was talking with people and the next thing I remember was in the ER and they were telling me to open my eyes.”

These days he is receiving treatment for some concussion and neck issues as well as seeing a therapist. In a month he will be reassessed and hopefully be able to return to work.

“I’m slowly getting better,” says the 18-year-member of the force. “From the neck down I’m fine. From the neck up I’m not 100 per cent yet. But I’m definitely getting better.”

They never did find out why his heart stopped beating that day. They think it was just the shock of the accident. Further tests have shown no heart issues.

One of the hardest parts has been missing work.

“I hadn’t taken a sick day since 2003,” O’Connell said.

“When the time is right I’ll be back and I’ll be better than ever.”



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Tony Saxon

About the Author: Tony Saxon

Tony Saxon has had a rich and varied 20 year career as a journalist, an award winning correspondent, columnist, reporter, feature writer and photographer.
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