Brian McGrory

She lives on in a lesson

By Brian McGrory
Globe Columnist / July 9, 2010

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The first thing you notice are her eyes — warm eyes, piercing eyes, eyes that make it look as if she lives in a state of perpetual joy.

Her name is Ann-Marie McNally, and photographs of her flash across the screen in a short video about her life. There is Ann-Marie cutting her First Communion cake as a young girl, leaning her cheek against her father’s as a grown woman, in a gown at her sister’s wedding. To see her is to instantly like her.

And then there is the image that clouds all the others: a twisted Saab on a city street, a mangled police cruiser slammed up against it, the photograph lingering on the screen in all its grotesque detail.

By the end, the video about Ann-Marie McNally’s life is also about her death, because it needs to be. She was killed when a Boston police officer speeding to an emergency call in November 2007 crashed into her car as she ran errands near her South Boston home on a Saturday afternoon. She was 36 when she died.

There are many extraordinary things about this unsparing 12-minute video, and these are but a few: It was produced by the Boston Police Department, the agency that caused her death; it will be required viewing for every member of the force; it was done with the full cooperation of the McNallys, a family that is still reeling over Ann-Marie’s death.

“We just wish we could go back in time and take it back, but that’s impossible, so we’re just doing the best we can to make sure it doesn’t happen again,’’ said Commissioner Ed Davis. “We want officers to think before they turn their lights on.’’

The idea for the video came from a meeting two summers ago between Davis and the family. Come Monday, the department will air it during a ceremony at the police academy, where officials will unveil a plaque and a photograph of Ann-Marie next to a driving simulator that is now part of routine training.

The video is as uplifting in spots as it is devastating in others. Her two brothers and younger sister offered wonderful memories set against the emptiness of their loss, as the Police Department offered apologies rather than excuses.

“Ann-Marie was such a positive person,’’ Mike McNally, her older brother, said in a conversation yesterday. “We wanted to make this positive.’’

It hasn’t been easy. They are a close-knit family, with parents that came to the United States from Ireland in the 1960s. All four children graduated college, Ann-Marie from Boston University, and they remained uncommonly close, even gathering for Sunday dinners at the Braintree house where they were raised.

Ann-Marie’s interests were wide and deep. She was an expert cook, “able to make a great meal out of three ingredients,’’ said her sister, Caroline Gallacher. She fought a chocolate addiction, was a fitness fanatic, a devotee of the Food Network, and she thrived as a marketing manager.

She loved traveling and dining out and had countless friends. She constantly played host in the South Boston condo that she loved. More than 1,000 people attended her wake.

The Saturday that she died, a call went out in South Boston that an officer was fighting off a man with a knife. Officer Jesse Stots raced to the scene. Ann-Marie had just collected her dry cleaning and was driving home.

Stots sped through a red light at the intersection of West Broadway and D Street and slammed into Ann-Marie’s car. On the video, Caroline recalls the despair when her husband got the call. “Did she break a leg?’’ she asked him, hopeful.

Stots has yet to return to duty. “He’s had a terrible time of it,’’ said his lawyer, Thomas Drechsler, who acknowledged “a terrible tragedy.’’

The McNallys struggle constantly to move on. They are nice people trying to prevent anyone else from ever facing a similar ordeal. “We want something good to come of it,’’ Caroline said. Credit the Police Department, in the face of darkness, for joining their cause.

Brian McGrory is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at

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