Court adds €20,000 fine to ‘unduly lenient’ sentence of drink driver who left cyclist with deformed spine
The Court of Appeal has added a €20,000 fine to the sentence of an “uninsured driver”, who crashed his car into two cyclists while four times over the drink driving limit, leaving one of them with a deformed spine and both with life-changing injuries.
The court had already found that the four years in prison, originally imposed on Muiris Flynn, was unduly lenient for the charge of dangerous driving causing serious bodily harm.
However, as the 31-year-old had already been released from prison and found a new job by the time of his appeal, the three-judge court decided not to increase the custodial element of his sentence but to impose a ‘substantial fine’ instead.
The court previously heard that the electrician had been drinking the night before he lost control and crashed into the triathletes, who were on a morning training cycle in Co Roscommon.
Flynn of Meadow Bank, Geevagh, Co Sligo had pleaded guilty to dangerous driving causing serious bodily harm, drink driving, and driving without insurance at Doon near Boyle on September 24th, 2017.
Roscommon Circuit Court heard that sisters Aoife and Áine O’Connor were cycling with their friend, Catherine Carey, around 9.30am that Sunday. All were wearing fluorescent cycling gear and were cycling in single file close to the left-hand verge of the road.
They were on a straight stretch of road when Aoife O’Connor, who was at the back, heard the sound of car tyres behind her. She saw Flynn’s car skidding uncontrollably and warned the others. She felt the draft of the car narrowly missing her before seeing it collide into her sister and friend, who were flung up in the air.
Áine O’Connor was initially unresponsive, with blood coming from her nose and mouth, while Catherine Carey was crying in pain. Both were rushed to hospital in Sligo.
Catherine Carey, a mother of three young children, was found to have spinal fractures, dislocation of her left hip, dental and other injuries. She spent 10 days in bed under full spinal control and was ‘devastated’ to be deemed unsuitable for spinal surgery.
She was unable to withstand the pain of the journey home for four months and so recovered in her mother’s home. This mean that she was separated from her children during this time, apart from weekends.
At the time of sentencing, she still endured persistent pain throughout her body and had a noticeable deformity in her spine leaving her back bent inwards. She also had impaired concentration and memory, dizzy spells, significant headaches and an inability to converse with more than one person simultaneously, including her children.
A secondary school teacher and triathlete at the time of the accident, she was now unable to engage in physical activities with her children and found it difficult to help with their homework.
Unable to return to work, she had lost financial independence, necessitating a loan for child care, and causing missed mortgage repayments. She still needed physical therapy and regular counselling sessions for post-traumatic stress disorder.
Áine O’Connor was found to have significant pelvic fractures, along with other fractures and injuries. She was admitted to intensive care and later transferred to Tallaght Hospital for surgery.
The physiotherapist gave evidence that she’d had a baby 11 weeks before the collision. She spent the first week following the crash on her back unable to speak to anybody, spend time with her baby or even hold her phone. She was then confined to a wheelchair for ten weeks. An external fixator was attached to pelvic bones through open wounds, she said.
Her husband had to stop work for four months, while he and her family cared for Ms O’Connor and their baby. She was unable to feed her baby or hold her for any length of time. She had to sleep alone on her back for five months, and needed aid to get in and out of bed for three of those.
She returned to work a year later but in a less physical position and on limited hours. She continued to experience pain, altered sensation, physical limitations, negative emotions and physical scars.
The sentence hearing heard that Flynn had got out of his car, apologised and admitted that he had been drinking. He was later found to have almost four times the legal alcohol limit for driving in his system. His insurance covered a car that he no-longer owned and was therefore not valid at the time. He made no comment during interview.
Judge Francis Comerford sentenced him to four years in prison for dangerous driving causing serious bodily harm, with the final two and a half years suspended. He also disqualified him from driving for eight years. He imposed a concurrent four-month sentence and three-year disqualification on the drink driving charge and a concurrent three-year disqualification for driving without insurance.
The maximum sentence for dangerous driving causing serious bodily harm is ten years in prison, and the Director of Public Prosecutions appealed against the undue leniency of his sentence earlier this month.
Flynn, who was released from prison in August, attended the Court of Appeal remotely.
Cathal Ó Braonáin BL, for the DPP, submitted that the sentencing judge had erred in fixing the ‘headline indication’ at too low a point, in applying insufficient weight to a number of important aggravating factors and undue weight to the mitigating factors. The sentence had failed to reflect the seriousness of the offending behaviour before him and the principles of deterrence, he said.
Desmond Dockery SC responded on behalf of Flynn.
“I accept that the judge was lenient on Mr Flynn, maybe even very lenient,” he said.
However, he submitted that the judge had to fix his sentence in the mid-range for that offence and, because he did so, there was no error.
“I’m acknowledging that he chose the lower end of the mid-range,” he added.
He informed the court that his client, who had lost his job of 11 years with Irish Rail, had found a new job since his release. Prison had a marked effect on him, he said.
In a judgment delivered today (Friday), Justice John Edwards, presiding with Justice Patrick McCarthy and Justice Aileen Donnelly, ruled that Flynn’s sentence had been unduly lenient.
They nominated a headline sentence of six years imprisonment rather than the four years nominated by the sentencing judge. They reduced this by half after considering mitigation.
They then imposed a fine of €20,000 on Flynn, having heard that he had offered his victims €12,000 in compensation, which they declined.
“It is substantial and discharging it may not be easy,” they said. “It is not intended to be. It is part of his punishment.”
They said that it was of some significance that Flynn had been granted temporary release in August. This, coupled with evidence that he found prison to be frightening and sobering, gave them little doubt that he would find it difficult to return at this point. However, they could attach only very modest weight to his experience of prison.
Of relevance was how he had conducted himself since release, finding a job with an employer who spoke highly of him.
“We believe that the interests of justice and the promotion and incentivisation of his continued reform would best be served by not requiring him to return to prison,” they said, suspending the unserved balance of the three years just imposed.
They re-imposed the same driving disqualifications as the circuit court, acknowledging it went ‘substantially beyond what was required’.
“We are conscious that it will impact adversely on his social and working life,” they said, before describing it as ‘an appropriate overall response to the devastating harm that he has caused.’