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No jail for driver who left cyclist unable to speak, walk or hear

Robert Faherty
Robert Faherty

A man whose careless driving left a cyclist without the ability to speak, walk or hear has been given a suspended sentence of nine months imprisonment.

Robert Faherty (63) was driving without headlights when Grainne Duncan's bike hit his car. Mr Faherty was starting out on his journey on the evening of February 4, 2015 and had driven for 200m before the crash.

Judge Pauline Codd said this was not a typical case of careless driving and there was a difference between a person engaged in patently dangerous behaviour and a momentary lapse of attention by a driver otherwise engaged in careful driving.

She noted that Mr Faherty was a man with no previous convictions and a clean driving record. She said he is an upstanding and decent member of the community.

Judge Codd also noted a psychiatric report describing his “real palpable and significant” distress and remorse at the results of his driving.

She did not impose a ban on his driving after hearing that he uses his car on a daily basis and that his own father who lives in Galway is in ill health.

Faherty (63) of Elton Walk, Ard na Greine, Dublin pleaded guilty last February at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to one count of careless driving causing serious harm.

Ms Duncan (45) was in a coma for two months after the accident and only became aware of her situation recently, which has resulted in her requiring treatment for depression.

Judge Codd said the accident left Ms Duncan in a vegetative state and she now requires “100% help” with her general well being.

The court heard that neither speed or alcohol were a factor in the accident and that road conditions were normal.

Garda Keith Murphy said that Ms Duncan had been cycling on the left side of the road when she decided to turn right at a junction with Greencastle Road. Both parties had a green light.

Gda Murphy said that the main contributing factor to the accident was that Ms Duncan was unable to see Mr Faherty's car because he did not have his lights on.

“I think that she may have noticed the car when she went to make the turn, but by then it was too late,” Gda Murphy said. “It would have been completely safe for her to make the turn if there had not been oncoming traffic,” he added.

The court heard that Ms Duncan was wearing a high-vis jacket, a helmet, and had a light on her bike at the time of the incident.

Judge Codd said there was an imbalance between the catastrophic harm caused by Faherty's actions and his culpability.

She noted case law stating that the well-being of a person cannot be restored or it's loss measured by a sentence. She said no sentence can reconcile her family to the impact of this accident on her.

A victim impact statement was presented on behalf of Patrick Duncan, the victim’s husband, who said his wife’s disability had had a profound effect on her daily living. Her favourite pastime was reading but due to short term memory loss caused by the brain damage, she could not read more than one or two pages at a time.

At the time of the incident he had returned to college as a mature student, but he had since given up his studies to care for Ms Duncan.

The medical costs to date were estimated at €540,000, and the court heard that there were pending civil proceedings.

Caroline Biggs SC, defending, said that by the time the car had stopped the lights were on and it was therefore a “momentary inattention” on her client's part.

Mr Faherty's daughter wrote a letter to the court, which stated that he had been a dedicated father and had never harmed another human being in his life.

“The accident has had a huge impact on our family, and the remorse that my father feels is such that he cannot think about the incident without becoming emotionally overwhelmed,” she said.

The charge carries a maximum sentence of two years imprisonment, but Ms Biggs had requested that the court not impose a jail sentence due to Mr Faherty's compliance, remorse, and poor health.

Judge Codd extended her sympathy to the Duncan family and to Ms Duncan and said her life has been made very difficult.