A man accused in Bucks County of carrying out at least two carjackings by using the threat of infection from a dirty needle was in and out of the custody of Philadelphia police and courts in 2022. Despite at least one of those arrests, he was still free in the community for most of the year because of unsecured bail or being released on his own recognizance. Additionally, the problems may have been compounded by the fact he was not charged by Bucks County officials for a carjacking in March until months later.
In the most recent incident, police allege that on Friday, Aug. 19, Kevin O’Connell approached an 83-year-old woman just as she was getting in her car after having left a nearby business in Bristol Borough. After threatening her with a dirty hypodermic needle, he was able to steal the car away from her, but was arrested the next day in Philadelphia.
O’Connell, 40, is now in custody in Bucks County charged with terroristic threats, aggravated assault, and multiple counts of simple assault and robbery.
If the broad set of allegations against O’Connell are true, the August arrest stops an eight-month crime spree that began in January.
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A court document from Philadelphia shows police first believe O’Connell committed a robbery in the 8800 block of Torresdale on just the first day of the new year. He was arrested the next day on Jan. 2. Although bail was set at $50,000, it was also unsecured, meaning O’Connell did not have to deposit any kind of cash or collateral. A second court document shows the Philadelphia district attorney’s office recommended “no cash bail.”
That case was still pending in March, however, when the seriousness of the crimes began to escalate.
Police say on the sixteenth of that month, O’Connell forced his way into the passenger seat of a woman’s car at a McDonald’s in Bristol Township. The affidavit says O’Connell told the woman, “I’m a heroin addict and I have a needle, get out of the car.”
Police used the OnStar tracking system to find O’Connell and the car.
In Philadelphia, where he was arrested, O’Connell was only charged with receiving stolen property and unauthorized use of an auto. The larger charges of carjacking, terroristic threats and more were likely left off because those crimes were committed in Bucks County, not Philadelphia.
Broad + Liberty asked Bucks County District Attorney Matt Weintraub’s office why charges were not applied to O’Connell in March, despite the fact that a suspect had been arrested in the stolen car in Philadelphia.
“At that time, the investigation into the March 16 carjacking in Bucks County was still pending,” said Manuel Gamiz Jr., communications director for the Bucks County district attorney.
Meanwhile in Philadelphia, where the arrest actually happened, a judge set no bail and released him on his own recognizance (ROR), according to court documents. Once again, a separate document indicates that the DA’s office recommended no cash bail.
Requests to the Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner’s office about the ROR bail were not returned.
In April, O’Connell was taken into police custody, mostly likely from a bench warrant that was issued when he failed to appear for court on March 1 for the burglary charges from January. Court documents show a preliminary hearing set for May 4. He was released.
That same scenario replayed itself in late July.
Days before he allegedly carjacked the 83-year-old woman, O’Connell was again in custody of Philadelphia Police. A court document shows he was released from a Philadelphia corrections facility on July 21.
O’Connell’s arrest comes as big cities all across the country have struggled to deal with an explosion in carjackings. At the beginning of August, Philadelphia had experienced 750 carjackings, according to a Fox 29 report.
Philadelphia’s carjacking crisis grabbed national attention when a group of teenagers carjacked U.S. Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon near a park in the city last December.
The degree to which any of that crime may have spread to the four collar counties is unclear, although local district attorneys recently told Delaware Valley Journal they’re not witnessing any kind of major crime spillover from Philadelphia.
One of the few statistical tools available to citizens, Pennsylvania’s Uniform Crime Reporting database, tracks vehicle thefts, but does not separate carjackings out as a separate category.
TIMELINE (all dates 2022):
Jan. 2: O’Connell arrested by Philadelphia Police for theft the previous day from a motor vehicle in the 8800 block of Torresdale Ave. The complaint alleges O’Connell stole “a GPS, laptop, fire extinguisher, and dash camera[.]”
The court docket indicates his bail was set at $50,000, but was also unsecured.
March 1: O’Connell misses a court appearance for the Jan. 2 incident.
March 16: O’Connell allegedly carjacks a woman at a Bristol Township McDonald’s, using the threat of an infected needle. Philadelphia Police find him in the stolen car on the same day near Ruth and Clearfield Streets and arrest him there, according to an affidavit from Bristol Township.
A Bristol Township officer takes multiple DNA swabs inside the vehicle.
No charges are filed in Bucks County.
March 17: Philadelphia files charges of unauthorized use of an automobile and theft by receiving stolen property.
The Philadelphia docket indicates his bail as “ROR,” or release on recognizance, meaning he is released on a promise that he will not fail to attend his next scheduled court appearance and will not engage in any further criminal activity.
April 13: O’Connell is in custody in Philadelphia again for reasons unknown, but most likely was for a bench warrant issued for his arrest after missing the March court appearance. A new court date is set for April 27.
April 27: O’Connell fails to appear for court appearance.
May 27: A garage at a home in Tullytown is burglarized for an estimated $5,000. Police do not have a suspect, but they do submit a cigarette found at the scene for DNA testing.
June 7: Cigarette found at Tullytown scene submitted to a DNA database, BodeHITS.
July 1: Police in Bensalem believe O’Connell committed theft of movable property by unlawful taking. The specifics of the allegations are not known currently, and Broad + Liberty has reached out to the Bensalem Police Department for details.
July 20: A court document from Bucks County indicates charges are filed regarding the July 1 incident.
July 21: O’Connell is in police custody again in Philadelphia, most likely transferred on an outstanding bench warrant.
Aug. 5: O’Connell fails to appear for court.
Aug. 9: According to a Bristol Township document, BodeHITS connects O’Connell’s DNA to the DNA swabs of the steering wheel and interior door of the car stolen on March 16.
Aug. 19: O’Connell is accused of carjacking an 83-year-old woman near a business in the 200 block of Commerce Circle in Bristol Borough. The victim suffered cuts to her right leg and arm, and bruising of the right leg.
Aug 20: O’Connell is found in the car taken on the 19th in Philadelphia and is arrested.
Aug. 21: Victim of Aug. 19 carjacking identifies O’Connell in a photo lineup.
Aug. 23: BodeHITS connects O’Connell’s DNA to DNA of cigarette found at scene in Tullytown.
Aug 25: O’Connell’s bail in Philadelphia is set at $50,000, unsecured.
Sept. 6: O’Connell’s bail in Bucks is set at $250,000, with at least a ten percent deposit required to be released. O’Connell is unable to make bail, and so remains in custody at the Bucks County Justice Center.
Sept. 14: Preliminary hearing set for O’Connell in Bucks related to the March 16 incident.
Sept. 19: Preliminary hearing set for O’Connell in Philadelphia related to the March 16 incident.
Sept. 21: Preliminary hearing set for O’Connell in Philadelphia related to the Jan. 1 burglary.
Todd Shepherd is Broad + Liberty’s chief investigative reporter. Send him tips at firstname.lastname@example.org, or use his encrypted email at email@example.com. @shepherdreports