An Irish couple living in Wisconsin was killed and their three children were injured in a car accident on Sunday, June 14 in Iowa while on vacation.

Former Kerry hurler Joe O’Connell, 50 and native of Abbeydorney, and his wife Anne Coleman, 44, from Abbeyknockmoy in Co. Galway, were killed after the 2005 Honda van their 16-year-old daughter Sarah was driving went out of control about 200 miles west of Chicago.

O’Connell died instantly and Coleman, who had been in the process of becoming a naturalized American citizen, was taken by helicopter to University Hospital in Iowa City where she died late Sunday.

Their 10-year-old daughter Maeve was taken by ambulance to Jackson County Regional Hospital in Maquoketa and later flown to Iowa City where she underwent surgery Monday and was in the hospital’s intensive care unit. Both Sarah, 16 and their brother Colman, 13 were taken to hospital with non-life threatening injuries.

The Irish family were back and forth between Ireland and Madison, Wisconsin where they had a home for the past number of years.

According to a close friend of the family, Kelly Meuer, O’Connell was back in Ireland working a lot.

Meuer told the Wisconsin State Journal that Coleman lived in Madison most of the time with the three children while O’Connell was in Ireland for work.

“Joe was a hard-working guy,” Meuer said. “Whatever was on Joe’s mind, he pretty much said it straight out. He was straight-forward in what he saw.”

Meuer said that the O’Connell family decided to go on a two-week cross-country road trip while Joe was back in the country.

“Joe hadn't seen the kids, because he had been across the sea,” Meuer said. “They were going to take two weeks and, honestly, they didn't have an itinerary.”

O’Connell, who helped struggling companies become more profitable, began his hurling career with Kerry in 1979. He won the first of five Kerry senior championship medals with his local club Causeway and won an All-Ireland B hurling title with his county in 1983.

Coleman, a teacher’s aide for the Madison School District, was an accomplished camogie player for Galway when she was younger and won a junior title with the county team in 1988. She also won medals with her county in 1992 and 1993. 

Her brother, Michael Coleman, played on the Galway team which won the All-Ireland hurling final in 1988. Her brother Mattie Coleman is a former Galway footballer. In Madison, Coleman played soccer in one of the adult leagues.

According to the police in Iowa, Sarah was driving the car and the only person wearing a seat belt. Sarah had recently received her learner’s permit.

Sergeant Dave Shinker of the Iowa State Patrol said, “Sarah probably very easily could have met her demise. That seat belt probably saved her life.”

The accident occurred on Highway 61 Sunday evening near Maquoketa in northeastern Iowa. According to police reports, the van they were traveling in drifted onto the shoulder, Sarah reacted suddenly and the van rolled at least twice before landing on its wheels. Apparently everyone was thrown from the car except Sarah.

“It's just horribly sad. These aren't statistics. These are real people,” said Dennis Hughes, chief of safety programs for the Wisconsin State Patrol.

“Your heart goes out to this child ... These are three orphans and their lives are changed forever."

Grandparents of the children were reported to be en route to Iowa from Ireland on Monday.