Longford Circuit Court Judge Keenan Johnson has adjourned sentencing in a case of dangerous driving causing death to enable a psychological assessment to be undertaken on the accused.
Martin McDonagh of 82 Grian Ard, Longford, pleaded guilty to dangerous driving causing the death of Craig McDermott, which carries a maximum penalty of up to ten years in prison and/or a fine of €20,000.
He also pleaded guilty to no insurance, driving a dangerously defective vehicle and failing to keep the vehicle at the scene of the accident.
At a hearing, the court heard that, close to midnight on June 15, 2018, Gda Tommy Farrell took up duty and received a 999 call from a man called Barry Sears.
As a result of the call, Gda Farrell became aware that a man was lying on the road at Deerpark, Newtownforbes after an alleged hit and run incident.
Emergency services arrived at the scene soon afterwards and treated Mr McDermott’s injuries. He was removed to Mullingar Hospital at 12.35am and treated further but was ultimately pronounced dead at 2.16am.
A victim impact statement given in court by Craig McDermott’s mother Maureen painted “a vivid picture of Craig”, according to Judge Johnson.
“He was clearly a much-loved son and brother who brought nothing but happiness and support to his mother and sister,” he said in court last Friday afternoon.
“While I never had the privilege of knowing Craig, having heard what his mother has to say about him, it would seem to me that he would want both his mother and his sister to live their lives to their full potential and to not allow their lives to be constrained and defined by the tremendous sense of loss they feel as a result of Craig’s death.
“Indeed I would go as far as to say that the best tribute they could pay to Craig is to honour his memory by living fulfilled lives.”
Moving to sentencing, Judge Johnson listed a long litany of aggravating factors in the case of Martin McDonagh.
“The evidence discloses that the accused drove a dangerously defective vehicle while being aware that it was dangerously defective,” he said.
“The PSV Inspector’s report shows that the brakes were dangerously defective and that there was a seriously worn tyre on the car. The accused has acknowledged that he was aware that the brakes were defective, but he has refused to accept that the defective brakes were a contributory factor in the fatal accident.”
A further aggravating factor was that Mr McDermott’s death was the result of a high-speed impact that occurred when the accused swerved into the left shoulder and collided with the victim.
Mr McDonagh admitted and accepted that he was travelling at 112km per hour, which was 12km in excess of the applicable speed limit.
The forensic report also indicated that, while the deceased was dressed in black clothing and walking with his back to traffic, he should have been clearly visible to the accused and the fact that other drivers could stop at the scene in the immediate aftermath of the impact indicated that a driver keeping a proper lookout would have seen the victim.
The fact that the accused was distracted and nibbling on takeaway food while driving was a further aggravating factor, as was his consumption of alcohol.
“The reluctance of the accused to admit that he had been drinking and the efforts made to deny this fact are also an aggravating factor,” said Judge Johnson.
“Ultimately, the accused accepted that he consumed three pints. The fact that the accused refused to give a urine or blood sample for analysis when he called to the Gardaí on the following morning is a further aggravating factor as it did not enable the Gardaí to establish the level of his sobriety at the time of the accident.”
Judge Johnson also listed Mr McDonagh’s decision to leave the scene, even though he was aware that he had hit something, as an aggravating factor.
“The accused says that he thought he hit a cow or an animal or bike. However, given the extent of the damage to his car, it is difficult to accept that he couldn’t but have been aware of the high probability that the impact was a pedestrian,” he said.
When the accused went to his friend’s house, he said that he had been drinking and was aware that he had been involved in a serious accident. He also said he was aware he needed to contact the Gardaí but did not do so until the next day.
“It seems clear from the actions of the accused in the immediate aftermath of the collision that he was endeavouring to minimise and possibly avoid responsibility,” said Judge Johnson.
Other aggravating factors included the fact that the victim was left on the road following impact, the fact that the victim ultimately lost his life, the effect of this on his family and the fact that the accused has a number of previous convictions relating to no insurance, careless driving and other road traffic matters.
“The probation report has assessed him at high risk of reoffending and the factors that he has to address are his abuse of alcohol, his lack of education employment, his offending history, his negative associations, his mental health issues and his financial matters,” said Judge Johnson.
“When this matter was listed for sentencing on Friday, 8th of October last, the court was obliged to issue a bench warrant as the accused had not presented himself,” he continued, noting that evidence had been given to the court that the accused had been admitted to Mullingar General Hospital.
“The failure of the accused to attend the sentencing hearing caused huge upset to the victim’s family and caused considerable disruption to the court’s schedule,” Judge Johnson added.
“Later on Friday, the accused was arrested on foot of the bench warrant and taken to court in Longford. He maintained that he had not been discharged from the hospital before he was arrested and subsequent enquiries indicated that the hospital authorities had discharged the accused and that the Gardaí had acted properly in the execution of the arrest warrant.
“The court was not impressed that the accused attempted to mislead it by indicating that the Gardaí had acted inappropriately and had arrested him contrary to medical advice. This assertion by the accused again tends to indicate his propensity for minimising his culpability in endeavouring to blame others for his situation.”
Mitigating factors included the guilty plea - “albeit late in the day” - an expression of remorse, a letter of apology to the court expressing hope that Mrs McDermott can forgive him and concerns that the probation officer has for his mental health.
The fact that Mr McDonagh is a father of four and married was also taken into consideration, as was the fact that prison is far more difficult for members of the travelling community.
“Bearing in mind that the maximum sentence for an offence of dangerous driving causing death is ten years, I am satisfied that the offending in this case, because it involved the consumption of drink, the driving of a dangerously defective car, the failure to remain at the scene, driving unaccompanied while only holding a provisional licence, the failure to have insurance, the nature of the driving and the fact that the victim was on the hard shoulder when hit, the fact that the accused was driving in excess of the speed limit, the fact that the accused was distracted by nibbling on takeaway food and the fact that the accused failed to remain at the scene, together with his failure to furnish blood and urine samples to Gardaí, puts the offending at the upper end of the upper range,” said Judge Johnson.
“Accordingly, the dangerous driving causing death offence carries a headline sentence, before mitigation, of nine years.”
However, Judge Johnson noted, the probation officer has opined that the accused’s mental health is “a pressing concern” and has suggested that, before finalising the sentence, the court might consider ordering a psychological assessment.
“I am satisfied that, in order to finalise sentence and give an informed opinion as to what the mitigation should be, it is necessary that such a psychological assessment be available to the court,” he said, adjourning the matter to January 11, 2022.
“I very much regret that I am not able to finalise matters today but the interests of justice dictate that the court must have a full and complete picture of the accused’s circumstances before finalising sentence,” he concluded.
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