Longford Circuit Court this afternoon heard the heartbreaking facts of a fatal road traffic collision in Drumlish, which took away the life of a young mother of four and left her family and partner devastated before Christmas 2017.
Gary Crichton appeared before Judge Keenan Johnson charged with dangerous driving, causing the death of young Leitrim woman, Claire Bann, on November 30, 2017.
The court heard how Mr Crichton was, according to statements given to gardaí by a witness who had spent some time with him earlier that day, “off his head” on drugs on the night of the incident.
Drug use was later confirmed by a urine sample at the hospital, which was indicative of heroin, cannabis and benzodiazepine consumption.
The court heard that Ms Bann was driving towards Drumlish from Longford with her partner Alan Gilroy on the evening of November 30 when her car collided head on with a Volkswagen Polo, which Mr Crichton was driving, on her side of the road.
Ms Bann swerved into the ditch and this resulted in her vehicle rolling onto its roof first, and landing on its side, with the driver’s side downwards.
Shortly after the first collision, a third vehicle, driven by a Ms Beata Jabloniec, collided with the roof of Ms Bann’s vehicle. Emergency services arrived and Ms Bann was pronounced dead at the scene.
In a victim impact statement from Ms Bann's family, which was read out to the court, her children and their father expressed their grief at losing their mother so young.
"I lost my mother in my teenage years, which is when a daughter needs her mother most," said Caitlin Bann, who is 16 years old. Her younger brother, 13-year-old Luke, in the family statement, told the court that "I still don't know much about what is to come later on", while 12-year-old Alexander said that "life hasn't been the same" since his mother passed away, adding that "I will miss her forever".
Five-year-old George was so young when he lost his mother, the victim impact statement added, and yet he is old enough to express his sadness at losing his mother so young.
A victim impact statement written by Mary Kelly Gilroy, mother of Ms Bann’s partner, Alan Gilroy, was also read out to the court. Ms Gilroy had written it on behalf of her son who was medically unfit to do so himself, or to attend court.
In her statement, Ms Gilroy revealed that, when her son woke up in the hospital, he could not accept that Claire was gone.
“Alan’s life totally changed. He could not accept at the time she was gone, he kept saying over and over how she said to him in the car her leg hurt and that she loved him and to never forget that, and that she was the happiest girl ever,” the statement read, referring to a brief conversation between Ms Bann and Mr Gilroy between the first and second collisions.
“She passed away in his arms. He kept saying how he kept telling her not to close her eyes, she had to stay awake, and how he loved her too and to think of all the happy times, and to stay awake not to go asleep.”
Mr Gilroy, the statement added, has suffered from severe PTSD since the incident. When he was leaving the hospital after the incident, he became highly distressed.
“The day of the funeral was to be the last day Alan would sit into anyone’s car for approximately six to eight months,” Ms Gilroy’s statement read.
“He would get horrific flashbacks and the only way he could get to Longford for appointments was on the local public bus, which would pass by the crash scene, and he was often heard screaming or crying on the bus by fellow passengers who would have known what had happened, as Alan and the family are very well known in the local area.”
Since the accident, Mr Gilroy has suffered “horrific nightmares” and “extremely bad flashbacks”, Ms Gilroy’s statement read, but “getting justice for Claire is what has kept him going… it is all he wants”.
The statement concluded with an expression of sincere thanks to everyone who supported or helped Alan and his family throughout this difficult time.
“I would like, on behalf of the entire family, to thank all the emergency personnel who attended the scene of the accident, the staff of Mullingar General, to the person who sat with Alan until an ambulance got to him and contacted his dad,” Ms Gilroy said in her statement.
“To Rev Linda Frost and Fr Bernard Hogan, to the two sets of close family friends, who drove straight to the hospital, offered loans of cars and lifts and babysitting to us that night; to his best friends, Declan and Stephen, to Damien, Peadar and Michael F, to the village of Drumlish.
“But most importantly, our biggest thanks goes to Sgt Paul Carney and Gda Padraig McConnon, who have liaised with me the entire time on Alan’s behalf and have kept in constant contact to keep us updated, and to our GPs, Annette Rodgers and Nuala Hardiman, without whom we could not have gotten through all of this.
“And to Johnny, Edel and Marie, the medical team - many thanks to all concerned,” Ms Gilroy concluded.
Mr Crichton, when he took to the stand, said that he is “deeply, deeply sorry” for what happened.
“It’s all I think about every day. When I try not to think about it, it’s all I can think about. It’s always there,” he said.
He also told the court that he suffered from a drug addiction but, since he went into custody a year ago, he has gotten clean and hopes to continue on his road to recovery.
Judge Keenan Johnson said that he will need some time to pass judgement and set a date for sentencing for Thursday, June 4.
“There is a huge tragedy at the centre of this case and that is the death of Ms Bann. I want to extend my sympathies to her family and partner,” said Judge Johnson.
“This case amply highlights the dangers of combining drugs with driving. This was a senseless death. It should never have happened and my heart goes out to her family and partner. You have my deepest sympathies.”