The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Woman fatally struck riding bicycle in Northwest Washington

Shawn O’Donnell, 40, worked for the State Department and loved to travel, her mother said

Shawn O’Donnell atop Mount Kilimanjaro. (Mary O’Donnell)

When two uniformed police officers arrived Wednesday at Mary O’Donnell’s door in Danville, Calif., she said, she knew, having served for 31 years in the military, what news they would bring. She had seen a video of her daughter’s crushed bicycle stuck underneath a truck in Northwest Washington.

“Her bicycle looked like someone took tin foil and just crumbled it,” O’Donnell said. “That is in my mind now, forever wondering: Did my daughter know she was dying?”

Police said a truck driver fatally struck 40-year-old Shawn O’Donnell early Wednesday in Northwest Washington.

Mary O’Donnell said her daughter was on her usual bike ride to work at the State Department when she was killed.

The incident was reported at 8:09 a.m. at 21st and I streets NW, near George Washington University, police said. The driver of a Mack truck was traveling southbound in the 900 block of 21st Street NW, a one-way travel lane, and Shawn O’Donnell was traveling southbound on the right side of the truck, according to police.

Police said when the driver of the truck began to turn right onto I Street NW, Shawn O’Donnell “attempted to ride ahead” and was struck by the front passenger side of the truck. She suffered critical injuries and was taken to a hospital, where she was pronounced dead.

Asked how police had formed their description of the crash, Officer Makhetha Watson, a D.C. police spokeswoman, said Thursday it was based on a “preliminary investigation” but did not detail the evidence detectives had gathered.

The driver remained at the scene, said Officer Hugh Carew, another D.C. police spokesman. The driver was out on delivery in a truck belonging to a building materials company, Ernest Maier, and is “fully cooperating” with police, said Aaron Fisher, an official with the company. Fisher declined to comment on the employment status of the driver and referred additional questions to D.C. police.

It was not immediately clear whether the driver would face charges. The case remains under investigation.

Shawn O’Donnell grew up in Danville, a small town in Northern California, and attended the University of California at Berkeley, where she was an avid rower, her mother said.

She worked at Google before leaving to “make a difference” in the world through service. As a refugee officer with the Department of Homeland Security, Shawn O’Donnell dedicated her time to working with refugees seeking asylum, her mother said. She most recently worked at the State Department as a Foreign Service officer, drawing on her passion for foreign languages, service and travel. She spoke Spanish, Arabic and Turkish.

Shawn O’Donnell celebrated her 40th birthday on July 7 by climbing Mount Kilimanjaro as part of her bucket list, her mother said. Mary O’Donnell said the two of them, alongside her other daughter, Shannon O’Donnell, were the “Three Musketeers” and loved to travel the world together.

Her death brings the number of cyclists killed this year in the District to at least three, according to city data. Last week, 65-year-old bicyclist Michael Gordon was killed in a crash in the Shaw neighborhood of Northwest. His family was unavailable for a phone interview Thursday evening.

Mary O’Donnell said she will miss her daughter’s handmade Mother’s Day cards. She was her dance partner and a “selfless girl,” she said.

“The world lost out on Shawn because she was a bright light who had so much more to give and so much more to live,” she said.

This report has been updated with additional comments from D.C. police.