Motorist who fatally knocked down cyclist in Dublin jailed

CourtsBy Sunday World
Christopher Coleman
Christopher Coleman

A man who fatally knocked down a cyclist when he drove a car at speed through a red light has been jailed for two and a half years.

Eugene Maher (62) died from head injuries hours after being struck by a car driven by Christopher Coleman (27). He had been banned from driving at the time and had never held a driving licence.

Coleman of Reuben Street, Dublin pleaded guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to dangerous driving causing the death of Mr Maher at Clontarf Road, Dublin on June 30, 2015. He also admitted leaving the scene of the crash and to driving without insurance.

Judge Melanie Greally offered her sympathies to the Maher family and said that the grief and anger they experienced was palpable. She commended the family on conducting themselves with great dignity.

She described the family's victim impact statements as “powerful and moving” in describing the scale of loss of a man in the prime of his life and at the heart and soul of his family.

Judge Greally said after reviewing the authorities and factors in the case she had placed it at the lower half of the medium band. The maximum sentence for dangerous driving causing death is ten years.

She imposed a two and a half year sentence and disqualified him from driving for 15 years.

Numerous witnesses from the scene described the car coming out of nowhere on the inside bus lane while traffic was stopped at the red lights. Witnesses also saw the car travelling at speed earlier along the Clontarf Road. They also saw a front seat passenger hanging out of the window of the car gesturing towards another car.

There was cheering and roaring coming from the car shortly before the collision. One witness said he then heard screeching of brakes and screaming before the sound of the impact.

Coleman tried to stop the car by doing a handbrake turn and the car ended up spinning around. He drove off at speed from the crash, dangerously overtaking a number of other cars.

He went to gardaí six days after the collision and told them that he took full responsibility. He said he was very sorry for not having the courage to stop at the scene and claimed he was trying to make an amber light at the junction.

He knew he was driving too fast but said he didn't know how fast. A garda collision report estimated that if he had been driving at the speed limit of 50kph and applied emergency braking the car would have stopped in 15 metres, five metres short of hitting Mr Maher.

Skids marks showed that the car stopped in just under 30metres.

Garda Linda Connaughton told the court that Coleman has 15 previous convictions including four for driving without insurance. In November 2012 a court disqualified him from driving for six years. He was also disqualified from driving in January 2012 and in February 2009.

Coleman told gardaí that he was “so sorry for the family” of Mr Maher. He said he panicked after the crash because he had been banned from driving.

During an emotional sentence hearing the victim's daughter, Lisa Maher, read out three impact reports in which the Maher family described the torture of having to wait six days before their father's body was released to them.

The body could not be released because a suspect would have the legal right to carry out an independent autopsy on the body. After Coleman came forward his full admissions of guilty meant the body could be released.

Ms Maher said her father “lay on a slab in a morgue” for six long, agonising, painful days. She said Mr Maher was her hero, her mentor and her guide and was a generous and selfless man.

Marie Maher said her late husband always said “forgive and forget” but said: “Right now I cannot find it in my heart to forgive. My life will never be the same again.” she said.

Stephen Maher said that while death is inevitable and that “we will all experience the death of a loved one”, his father had been left for dead on a busy road.

In a letter to the court Coleman said he knows that he is responsible for causing life long suffering to the Maher family and will carry that guilt with him until the day he dies.

The court heard that Coleman didn't drink alcohol because his father died from drink. He was driving his four friends around on the day because they were drinking and he was not.

Padraig Dwyer SC, defending, handed in a letter of apology from his client as well as a letter from his partner and testimonials. He said Coleman was a man with a conscience who would have to live with this for the rest of his life and would never forgive himself.

In his letter Coleman said he was ashamed and remorseful but conceded it would be hard for the Maher family to accept he was sorry.

He said the thought of Mr Maher lying on the ground would not leave his mind and he asked himself why he left. He said if he could go back he would do things differently by staying and facing up to things.

He said he had a difficult upbringing but had left with his girlfriend for a new start in Wexford. They returned to Dublin prior to the offence when his mother fell sick.

His partner outlined in her letter that Coleman was remorseful and said he was a kind and caring person.

Mr Dwyer said Coleman was filled with guilt and shame for not stopping and has since “manned up” to ease the case through the courts. He said he knows that he is responsible for causing life long suffering to the Maher family and will carry that guilt with him until the day he dies.

Mr Dwyer handed in a probation report and outlined that his client had not consumed alcohol or drugs but drove in a dangerous manner and recognised how reckless he was in not giving consideration to other road users or pedestrians.

He said his client had little driving experience and was not a good driver. He has been assessed as at low risk of re-offending.

The court heard that Mr Maher was cycling across the junction when the car hit him. He was thrown up into the air, landing on the car windscreen before falling back on to the road.

Witnesses were screaming and shouting at the occupants of the car not to drive off. One witness saw a passenger get out, walk over, get back into the car before the car was driven off at speed.

Another witness heard somebody inside the car shouting “get back in”. The car was found that evening in Marino not far from the crash.

A bus driver told gardai that five young men ran up to his bus and pleaded with him to let them on even though they didn't have change for the fare. They told him they were been chased by other lads and said “please don't do this to us”.

The five were identified by gardai who viewed CCTV on the bus and gardai went to their homes but did not find them there. When Coleman later handed himself in he told gardai that his friends had no role in the fatal crash.

The court heard that the injury to Mr Maher's brain was so traumatic that he never regained consciousness. He was treated but pronounced dead at midnight.

Lisa Maher said her father was callously left to die like an animal on the road and that her killer hid like a coward for six days. She said this meant the family could not plan his funeral as Mr Maher's remains could not be released.

“My dad died for nothing. He was left for dead on the side of the road,” she said. She was inconsolable and screamed out in panic when doctors told her there was nothing they could to save her father.

She said her third child is due to be born on June 30th, exactly a year after his grandfather's death and she said this was like he was giving the family “a special little gift to give them joy”.

The victim's widow said that she cried like a baby when his remains were brought into her home for his funeral. She said she missed his smile and his infectious laugh and now cooked and ate alone.

“The silence in the house is deafening,” she said in her statement, read by her daughter to the court. The couple had a business together but she had to close it after his death so she had lost her business and job.

By Declan Brennan and Fiona Ferguson