Court of Appeal adjourns sentencing Cork man who crashed while drunk

Dublin Courts of Criminal Justice
Dublin Courts of Criminal Justice

The Court of Appeal has adjourned sentencing a Cork man who was four times over the limit when he crashed his BMW into a roundabout killing a woman and paralysing her friend in Skibbereen two-and-a-half years ago.

Sean Casey (27), of Cooragannive, Skibbereen, Co Cork, had pleaded guilty to dangerous driving causing the dath of Megan Johnston (22) and causing serious bodily harm to Kate Petford (24) who was left paralysed following the crash at Skibbereen on April 8 2013.

He was sentenced at Cork Circuit Criminal Court to seven years imprisonment and disqualified from driving for 30 years by Judge Seán Ó Donnabháin on February 17 2014.

Casey successfully appealed his sentence in July with the Court of Appeal finding that his seven-year sentence was “out of line with other decided cases”.

He was due to be sentenced by the three-judge court today/yesterday(MONDAY).

However, Mr Justice Garrett Sheehan said the court would give further time to considering the penalty it should impose on Casey in light of a letter it had just recieved this/yesterday (MONDAY) morning from the parents of Ms Petford.

Counsel for the Director of Public Prosecutions, Lorcan Staines Bl, said the court was aware that the parents of the late Ms Johnston had previously submitted an up-to-date victim impact report and the parents of Ms Petford now wished to submit a letter also.

Mr Staines said the letter set out the changed circumstances for their daughter since sentencing.

He said Ms Petford had moved from residential care into her family home under the care of her parents with the help of the HSE and there were significant difficulties for her at home.

On the DPP's instructions, Mr Staines said the court should be aware of those changes.

The Court of Appeal adjourned sentencing until November 17 next. 

In July, Mr Justice Sheehan said the sentencing judge “erred in holding that this was at the absolute apex” of the dangerous driving scale, as had been submitted by Casey's barrister Thomas Creed SC.

Although “no two cases are the same”, the court considered eight dangerous driving cases which had reached an appeal court. In all but two of the eight cases, sentences of below five years were imposed.

Mr Creed submitted an up to date victim impact report from the parents of Ms Johnston.

"They feel Sean Casey has served enough time in prison to make amends for what he did," Mr Creed said.

The court did not take up the DPP's invitation to set guidelines on dangerous driving cases in this particular case.

Moving to appeal his sentence earlier this year, Mr Creed said his client always knew, “almost out of a sense of atonement”, that he was going to get a custodial sentence.

However, the sentencing judge put this case at “the very apex” of dangerous driving causing death cases and completely ignored the possibility for rehabilitation, Mr Creed said.

There was no evidence that Casey's silver BMW was a 'big powerful' car, Mr Creed said. It may have been one of the least powerful BMWs available and the same results could have been brought about in a one-litre Ford Focus.

There had been reference to Casey being five times over the limit, Mr Creed said. It was accepted Casey was 4.1 times over the legal limit.

Mr Creed said the whole court had been influenced by a very touching and very sad victim impact report from Ms Petford, who was left paralysed following the incident.

It was a palpably sad occasion and the judge seemed to put the case far higher up the scale than he would in a situation less fraught.

The judge seemed to have been influenced by such matters, Mr Creed said.

Counsel for the Director of Public Prosecutions, Lorcan Staines BL, said the devastating consequences that were visited on both families were forseeable and “unfortunately” they fell at the feet of Casey in this case.

Mr Staines said a very large amount of alcohol had been consumed and more people than were legally allowed – five - were in the car at the time.

Mr Staines said the vehicle was travelling at significant speed coming into a roundabout. Evidence was given that the safe speed to approach a roundabout was 34 - 42 kmh. Casey was travelling at 80kmh.

It seemed to be an automatic consequence that there would be a very serious collision travelling at that speed, Mr Staines said.

Other people had said Casey was at a stage of drunkeness that would not enable him to drive, Mr Staines said. The car keys came back to him because of a friend's representations to the barmaid who had taken them.

Furthermore, Casey was experienced with vehicles because of his job. The family business was plant hire, the court heard.

He said dangerous driving causing death cases were difficult to balance because they were not the result of intended actions.

It had been “very very clearly signposted” by the State, Oireachtas and Road Safety Authority that these were actions which cannot be condoned.

The DPP maintained that there was no demonstrated error in principle and it was open to the trial judge to do what he did, Mr Staines said.