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Careless motorist who caused death of woman has sentence suspended

The sentencing judge found no aggravating factors adding that the evidence wasn't there for dangerous driving causing death
The sentencing judge found no aggravating factors adding that the evidence wasn't there for dangerous driving causing death

A 28-year-old teacher whose careless driving caused the death of a woman has had his 12 month prison sentence suspended on appeal on condition he undertake community service.

Declan O'Donnell (28), with an address at Whitehills, Churchill, Letterkenney, had pleaded guilty at Monaghan Circuit Criminal Court to careless driving at Tulvaragh Lower, Carrickmacross on January 25 2013.

He was sentenced to 12 months imprisonment by Judge John O'Hagan on June 17 2015.

Speaking on behalf of the Court of Appeal today Mr Justice George Birmingham said it seemed as though the sentencing judge was heavily influenced by the awful consequences of the driving rather than the actual driving itself.

The sentencing judge found no aggravating factors adding that the evidence wasn't there for dangerous driving causing death.

Absent was any erratic driving, any speeding, any drink or drugs nor any defects in the vehicle.

The judge speculated, Mr Justice Birmingham said, that O'Donnell might have fallen asleep and if that was the case he ought to have taken a nap.

He had been driving from Dublin where he worked as a teacher to his home in Donegal on a wet and dark Friday evening in January.

Of significance, Mr Justice Birmingham said, was that a couple in the vehicle behind him did not make any complaint of his driving.

His car crashed into Michelle McCabe's vehicle. The 34-year-old, who had been accompanied in the car by her mother and two children aged 8 and 6, died as a result of the collision.

Mr O'Donnell had no memory of the incident, Mr Justice Birmingham said, and wasn't in a position to provide an explanation for what happened.

In mitigation, there was his early plea, his deep remorse and the fact that he will live with the consequences of his actions for the rest of his life, the judge said.

Having imposed the sentence of 12 months in prison, “somewhat unusually there was a request to reopen the matter later in the day,” Mr Justice Birmingham said.

It emerged there were differences in opinion within the wider family of the deceased. Her mother didn't want to see Mr O'Donnell receiving a custodial sentence while her husband felt the 12 month sentence imposed that morning should have been allowed to stand, the judge said.

It's clear this was a very difficult, emotional and traumatic day in the Circuit Court, Mr Justice Birmingham said.

It was the Court of Appeal's view, he said, that the case was capable of being dealt with by a non-custodial sentence.

The court was conscious of the fact that for somebody who had never been in prison before and must never have expected to to see the inside of a prison cell, the early weeks of his sentence were the most difficult.

Mr Justice Birmingham, who sat with Mr Justice Garrett Sheehan and Mr Justice Alan Mahon, said the court would suspend the balance of the sentence on the basis that O'Donnell completes 200 hours community service.

The court remarked that it was “very conscious” of the tragedy that had happened and the impact it must have had and continues to have on a daily basis.

There were emotional scenes in court for the hearing.

The maximum sentence available for careless driving is two years imprisonment.