CARMEL, N.Y. - Former Carmel police officer Richard O’Keefe pleaded guilty in Putnam County Court Wednesday, Feb. 22, to criminally negligent homicide, a class E felony. O’Keefe had been involved in a car accident on Nov. 14, 2015, that took the life of Fran Ghelarducci, a 54-year-old mother of three and a teacher's aide at Primrose Elementary School in Somers.

O’Keefe had originally been charged with aggravated vehicular homicide and second-degree vehicular manslaughter, as well as a misdemeanor count of driving while intoxicated.

Putnam County District Attorney Bob Tendy said that O’Keefe will be sentenced to one year in county jail when he returns to court April 19.

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In his plea deal, Tendy said, O’Keefe, admitted he was speeding and driving under the influence at the time of the crash. He said a state police investigation revealed that O’Keefe  was driving at an excessive rate of speed—between 52 and 58 mph—on Route 6 in the in Mahopac. The Investigation determined O’Keefe had consumed “multiple alcoholic beverages” and had a blood-alcohol content to be 0.247. 

The collision reconstruction report revealed that a second vehicle, driven by Anna Estrada, exited the Route 6 Plaza parking lot and failed to yield the right of way to O’Keefe and was struck by O’Keefe’s vehicle. Tendy said Estrada voluntarily consented to a chemical screening of her blood sample which yielded negative results for alcohol and or drugs.     

The state police investigation revealed that the collision caused the vehicle driven by Estrada to roll onto its passenger side and collide with a third vehicle causing the fatal injuries to Frances Ghelarducci, who was seated in the rear of the vehicle driven by Estrada.    

Prosecutors said that O'Keefe's intoxicated state and speed were major factors in the fatal collision, but noted that Estrada had cut him off, which also contributed to the accident.

 “This was a very difficult investigation,” Tendy said. “Based on all the factors the defendant is expected to be sentenced to one year jail.”

Tendy has also hired an independent agency, the Buffalo-based LISKE Accident and Injury Experts, to conduct its own investigation in addition to the state police.

“A lot of expert advice was sought in this case and I believe this is a fair and just resolution,” Tendy told Mahopac News.

Tendy expressed his sympathy to the Ghelarducci family and thanked them for their continued support throughout the investigation.

A lawsuit was filed last year in Westchester County Supreme Court by Ernest Estrada, Anna’s husband, and a passenger in the same car as Frances Ghelarducci and her husband, Steven. The suit states that the Estradas were traveling with the Ghelarduccis in their Jeep, which was being driven by Anna Estrada with Steven Ghelarducci’s permission, at the time of the crash.  The suit contends that O’Keefe and Steven Ghelarducci “were negligent, careless and reckless” with the use of their vehicles. Estrada stated in the lawsuit he suffers from permanent personal injuries and seeks unspecified damages. The suit is still pending.

O’Keefe, who was 57 at the time of the crash, had been out on $100,000 bail until he surrendered to authorities last month and was sent back to jail.

O’Keefe is a former Carmel Town Board member and former Mahopac Board of Education trustee. He is Town Councilwoman Suzy McDonough’s brother and Supervisor Ken Schmitt’s former brother-in-law. Tendy stressed that those connections did not play a role in the investigation or the plea bargain.