A man charged with a dangerous driving incident in Edgeworthstown on September 10, 2017, and failing to report the occurrence of an accident to Gardaí, has been sentenced to six years in prison with the final year suspended for a period of ten years.
Aaron Cassidy with an address in Cranleymore, Edgeworthstown, appeared before Judge Keenan Johnson at Longford Circuit Court for sentencing, following a lengthy hearing on an earlier date.
On the date in question, the accused had driven to Edgeworthstown in an intoxicated state, where he was to collect his brother and his brother’s friend from a party in a local pub.
On arriving in Edgeworthstown, the accused spotted the injured party, Stephen Roche, standing on the road outside the pub, talking to a colleague.
The accused drove his Ford Transit van in a circle around the injured party and his colleague twice and, on the second circle, he collided with Mr Roche and knocked him over.
A forensic collision report was prepared by Garda Eoin O’Connor and in it he opines, having viewed the CCTV footage of the incident, that the accused “drove directly at the victim without breaking or diverting course”.
He noted that the average speed of the van when it comes into view prior to the collision, to immediately following the collision, was 14km/hr. He also determined that the vehicle accelerated during the incident and made no effort to decelerate.
“It is clear that the accused was aware that he had hit the victim before he left the scene,” Judge Johnson noted.
“The accused, having deposited his passengers, then left the van in the bog. The van has never been found and the accused has indicated that he has no knowledge of its whereabouts.”
Mr Cassidy then went to the UK and did not return until the following Tuesday, September 19, when he attended the Garda station and was interviewed.
“When contacted by gardaí initially, the accused had told them that he had sold the van to a Nigerian and, in subsequent interviews, he admitted that this was a lie,” said Judge Johnson.
“The truthfulness of the accused in relation to the accounts that he has given in respect of the incident is highly suspect.
“When interviewed by Dr Maguire, he advised her that he had no recollection of the accident and he furthermore advised her that he had been drinking for 14 hours before he went to collect his brother.
“He again confirmed this in discussions with the probation officer, who reports the accused indicating that he had six vodkas early in the evening and a further eight to ten vodkas and Red Bull at the 30th birthday party (he was attending), together possibly with some cocaine.
“The accused made no reference to consuming Bulmers, despite the bar maid stating he had three vodkas and five cans of Bulmers. The accused also told the probation officer that he had no recollection of the offence due to his high level of intoxication.”
Mr Roche received the “very serious and profound” injuries of midline fractures of the tibula and fibula of his right leg, together with a bleed on the brain and fractures to the skull.
“His injuries have affected him greatly, particularly from a neuro cognitive point of view,” said Judge Johnson.
“Following the accident, he was no longer able to read or write and became totally dependent on his wife.
“He was also feeling very depressed and, after being released from hospital, on occasions took solace from drinking, which negatively impacted on him and his wife.”
But the support he has received from his wife has been “significant and inspiring” he said, before complimenting Mr Roche on delivering a victim impact statement to the court, which he said was “one of the most harrowing and profound” he had ever heard.
“Mr Roche’s ability to read, to write, to be a competent, understanding father, a breadwinner and support to his wife and family has been severely compromised as a result of his injuries.
“Deterrence has to be a significant consideration in any case like this, where an intoxicated driver causes such devastation,” said Judge Johnson, with regard to sentencing.
“Intoxicated driving is no longer morally, legally or socially acceptable. Regrettably, it is still a source of amazement and concern to me that cases of this nature still regularly come before the courts.
“One would have thought that, given the changing cultural attitudes towards drinking and driving, offences of this nature would become a rarity.
“Unfortunately, that is not the reality and innocent people like Mr Roche continue to be victims of drunken drivers like the accused, who have to bear a high degree of culpability for their actions.”
Turning to sentencing, Judge Johnson listed the accused’s intoxication, his reckless driving around the victim, the fact that he fled the scene, hid his van in the bog and went to the UK to avoid gardaí among the long list of aggravating factors.
“In an interview with Gardaí, the fact that the accused alleged that the victim had jumped at his van, which was patently untrue, is a further aggravating factor in that, not alone did it hinder the Garda investigation, but also cast aspersions on the victim that thereby compounded negative effects of the offence on him,” said Judge Johnson.
“Allied to this, the accused in interviews with Gardaí, failed to be truthful in relation to his excessive consumption of alcohol in the hours preceding the offence. This lack of candour is a further aggravating factor from a sentencing perspective.”
The effect of the offence on the victim and his family, and the fact that Mr Cassidy drove without insurance were also listed as aggravating factors.
Mitigating factors included the accused’s guilty plea, his cooperation when he was ultimately interviewed by Gardaí, his good work record and a number of testimonials to his character, among others.
“The expressions of remorse for his offending from the accused appeared initially to be genuine and, as such, were worthy of mitigation,” said the judge.
“However, the court was very concerned to learn from the probation report that the accused accepts no responsibility in terms of him purposefully driving into the victim on the night in question and his reiteration that it was an accident and that he would not be capable of doing such a deed.
“Simultaneously, he admitted that he had no actual recollection of his involvement in the commission of the offences, such was his level of intoxication.
“If that is the position, then Mr Cassidy has to realise that he must accept the natural and probable consequences of his actions,” said Judge Johnson.
“When he got into the van on the night in question in such an intoxicated state, it was clearly natural and probably that he could cause serious injury and even death to another innocent road user.
“The accused’s inability to grasp the seriousness of his actions is further highlighted by reference in the probation report to the fact that he has little victim empathy and is of the preposterous belief that the victim may be exaggerating his ailments in pursuit of his personal injury claim.
“This is wholly unwarranted and unjustified criticism of Mr Roche. Mr Cassidy would want to listen, learn and grow up.”
A letter of remorse, which was furnished to the court, did little to counteract the comments in the probation report, the judge said.
“While the court would like to believe that the expression of remorse is sincere and genuine, the comments made to the probation officer by the accused put a serious question mark over that,” said Judge Johnson.
“It can be said that the accused did himself no favours in his interactions with the probation officer. This is probably indicative of his need to learn empathy and, as directed by the probation officer, to engage in cognitive behavioural therapy.”
Taking all factors into account, Judge Johnson imposed a sentence of six years imprisonment but, in order to foster and encourage the continued rehabilitation of the accused, he suspended the final year for ten years.
For failing to report the accident to Gardaí, Mr Cassidy was given a three year sentence, concurrent with the sentence already imposed. Judge Johnson also disqualified him from driving for a period of 10 years.