“It is tragic,” said Andrew Bercraft, whose mother was once married to O’Brien. O’Brien’s immediate family members declined to comment, but neighbors remembered him as gregarious and helpful.
Cena, 57, director of religious education at St. Leo the Great Catholic Church in Fairfax, was arrested two days after the April 16 incident and charged with aggravated malicious wounding. Fairfax County prosecutors said they are still reviewing the case and declined to say whether the charges might be upgraded.
Cena declined to comment Wednesday, and no attorney is listed in online court records.
The encounter shows how road rage incidents, which occur every day on the Washington area’s congested streets, can quickly turn violent. The incident, court papers say, was captured on mall surveillance cameras.
Cena told police he was driving his gold minivan on Pickett Road near the Fair City Mall shortly before 11:20 a.m. April 16, according to a search warrant filed in Fairfax Circuit Court that details conversations Cena had with investigators. Cena said O’Brien honked at him several times while he was stopped at red lights, possibly because he didn’t move fast enough off the line.
Cena told investigators that he was angry, so he followed O’Brien’s car into the mall parking lot. After O’Brien got out of his car and began walking toward the stores, surveillance video shows Cena sprinting toward O’Brien, according to the search warrant.
Cena told investigators he told O’Brien, “One day you’re going to get your ass kicked.” The surveillance video shows Cena striking O’Brien in the head from behind and O’Brien defending himself until a witness approaches and breaks up the scuffle, according to the search warrant.
The two men traded blows, Cena told police, and O’Brien’s glasses were knocked off his face. During an interview with investigators, Cena said he had made a mistake, but he didn’t think he needed to pay for it.
“No, I think it was an even exchange,” Cena said, according to the court papers. He added later, “I would say he instigated it.”
After the altercation, Cena returned to the vehicle and left the scene, according to the search warrant. O’Brien went into a Best Buy store, where he told an employee he had been assaulted and bought an item. The employee told police that the side of O’Brien’s face was discolored.
O’Brien returned home and called 911 just before 1:40 p.m., saying he was alone and in significant distress, according to the search warrant. He told a dispatcher he had “a headache that’s about to make my head blow off.”
An ambulance was sent to O’Brien’s home. Paramedics forced their way inside and found O’Brien unconscious and unresponsive on the dining room floor, according to the search warrant.
O’Brien was transported to a local hospital, where doctors determined he was suffering from a traumatic brain injury, court papers say. He was listed in critical condition and later died as a result of his injury.
Dawn Slaten, a neighbor, said O’Brien liked to garden and throw St. Patrick’s Day parties, complete with a tuba player. She said he had a wife and children and was always out in the neighborhood.
“He’s a fabulous person,” Slaten said. “He was really talkative and very personable.”
Vicky McLaine, a neighbor of Cena’s, said he is married and has four school-age children. She recalled that he helped her dig her car out of the snow after a winter storm. Cena has no prior criminal charges in Fairfax County.
“He’s a very loving family man who has shown concern for his neighbors,” McLaine said.
Cena has been on administrative leave from St. Leo the Great Church, said Michael J. Donohue, a spokesman for the Archdiocese of Arlington.
The Rev. David A. Whitestone, church pastor, released a statement:
“The members of Saint Leo the Great Church are very saddened by the news of Mr. O’Brien’s death and shocked by the apparent involvement of a member of our church. Many of us are struggling to come to terms with this disturbing event, and we are following developments in this case closely.”