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Slashed woman given gift of time

Co-workers, some of whom she doesn't even know, donate sick-leave time to a woman recovering from a vicious attack.

By MELANIE AVE and CARY DAVIS

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 4, 2000


TAMPA -- While Danita O'Neill lies in a hospital bed, her co-workers at the University of South Florida are making sure she gets as much time to recover as she needs.

USF employees have donated more than nine weeks of paid sick time to the 33-year-old Lutz woman, who has worked at the university for two years and is hospitalized with deep facial wounds.

Sheriff's officials said Mrs. O'Neill's estranged husband, James O'Neill, slashed her face with a box cutter at her Lutz home Monday night, snatched their 3-year-old son and went on an armed rampage in Pasco County.

"People are horrified," said Stephanie DeShong, president of the USF University Support Personnel Senate. "They're just in shock and sickened by what's happened."

Mrs. O'Neill, who had filed for divorce from her husband of three years, remained in critical condition Wednesday at Tampa General Hospital.

O'Neill, who lives in Wesley Chapel, was held without bail in the Pasco County Jail and faces charges, including attempted murder, in Hillsborough and Pasco counties.

At USF, several e-mails went out Wednesday asking people to donate sick time to Mrs. O'Neill, who had only about seven days of paid sick leave accumulated as a clerical worker in the Educational Outreach Department, said Liz Karl, who oversees human resources in Mrs. O'Neill's department.

"Frankly, I'm overwhelmed by the generosity," said Carol Harneit, director of the department where O'Neill worked. She donated 40 hours of her sick time.

"No one wants her to have further problems and not get paid," said Harneit, fighting back tears.

Dan Casseday didn't know Mrs. O'Neill, but he didn't let that stop him from offering sick time.

"I probably have thousands of hours, definitely hundreds of hours," said Casseday, director of USF marketing. "I'm willing to give whatever they want from me. I didn't know her personally, but I feel for the situation."

The O'Neills had been separated since August. Soon after, Mrs. O'Neill filed for a protective order and wrote that she was afraid for her life.

Authorities said O'Neill drove to his wife's home on Hanna Road in Lutz on Monday night and sliced her face after she opened the door, took their son Liam and headed north to Pasco County.

When his van broke down on State Road 52 west of San Antonio, he blasted the front door of one home with a sawed-off shotgun, according to reports. Then he walked up the road and entered another home, where he fired a shot into the ceiling and forced an elderly man to surrender his car at gunpoint, authorities say.

O'Neill abandoned the stolen car near the middle of San Antonio and walked around some orange groves, with his son in one arm and the loaded shotgun in the other before he surrendered to deputies, authorities said. His son suffered minor cuts from the orange trees. The boy was placed in temporary state protective custody. Hillsborough has charged O'Neill, 35, with attempted murder, armed burglary, violation of a restraining order and false imprisonment. Pasco has charged him with child neglect, possession of a short-barrel shotgun, home invasion robbery, attempted kidnapping, aggravated assault, shooting into an occupied dwelling and possession of marijuana.

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