Dublin man snorted cocaine and downed vodka before killing toddler in hit-and-run
A Dublin man who drank a litre of vodka and took two grams of cocaine before he knocked down a toddler in the Phoenix Park last year has been jailed for five years.
Ciaran Lane (25) of Ashington Avenue, Cabra, pleaded guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to dangerous driving causing the death of 23-month-old Vanessa Siatka at Ratra Triangle, Phoenix Park on April 6, 2015.
In a victim impact statement read to the court, the child's mother Katarzyna said at the time she couldn’t do anything but watch as her “baby was taken away” from her.
“For me that was the moment time and my heart stopped. The moment the car hit Vanessa it not only swept her away physically, it also took her away from us.
“All I could do was run to my baby. I spoke to her; I told her I loved her and everything would be ok, Daddy was on the way. I prayed for her but as she lay on the road a small tear came from her eye and I knew in my heart that this was her last ‘Goodbye Mammy.’” she said.
“Our hearts are shattered, Lukasz and I. Life stopped. We did not know how to exist; how to sleep; how to eat; how to wake up. Every day is a nightmare; even to breath was difficult. I still have nightmares about the accident, they never go away. Without Vanessa we will never be the same; never as happy as we were.
“Vanessa’s room is empty; our home is empty; our lives are empty,” she said.
The court heard that Lane failed to stop after hitting the child. The car took her along the road for a few metres and she tumbled along the road before coming out from under the car.
Half an hour later Lane arrived at Cabra garda station and told gardai that he had been involved in the accident. He told gardai he was driving at a speed of 80 kph and the speed limit at the location was 50 kph.
Judge Patrick McCartan told the court this was “a terrible tragedy” with the “horrible loss of a young life.”
The judge said this tragedy was “entirely avoidable” and he extended his “deepest condolences” to the family of Vanessa Siatka.
“Her family and friends come here today in search of some justice for what has occurred. It is probably the most difficult case that a judge has to deal with and this court is regretfully no stranger to these kind of cases,” he said.
The judge said there was nothing the court could do to address the injustice that had been created or help rebalance matters.
“My hands are tied by precedent and a higher sense of justice in that only in very exceptional cases should a maximum sentence be imposed. This case is not far from that position as it happens,” said the judge.
He said the Phoenix Park was used every day of the year by the citizens of Dublin with its many attractions for young children and their families.
“Easter Monday, April 6, 2015 was a particular busy day, it was a very pleasant and warm day. Anyone who used the park including the accused would know there would be children about. The evidence has established that the accused was in no position to consider the safety of others,” he said.
The judge said the 26-year-old drove his motor car in the “most erratic way” and what occurred in the Phoenix Park “was inevitable but entirely avoidable.”
He said Lane was well over the limit and was using “a highly stimulant drug, cocaine.” The judge said Vanessa Siatka had no chance and this was as bad “a dangerous driving case” as he had ever encountered.
“He was a father of a child of the same age and knows the value of life in that respect,” he said. He said the only mitigating factor was that Vanessa Siatka was on the road.
The judge said Lane was a young man, the father of a child, he came from a young family and had entered an early guilty plea.
The judge then sentenced Lane to seven years in prison with the final two years suspended.
“Having regard to what has been said about his age and that it is his first time to go to prison, I propose to suspend the last two years of sentence if he remains alcohol and drug free for a period of two years from his date of release from custody,” he said.
Judge McCartan also banned Lane from driving for twenty years.
Deputy State Pathologist Linda Mulligan said the 22-month-old had sustained multiple injuries as a result of the road accident but the most serious were to her head.
"She had severe brain injury which was incompatible with life," said the barrister.
Garda Eoin O’Doherty told Antonia Boyle BL, prosecuting that Lane arrived at Cabra Garda Station at 7pm that night and told gardai he had struck a child, had failed to stop and continued driving.
Gda O'Doherty said he could smell alcohol off Lane and his eyes were glazed.
Lane told gardai in interviews that he drank one litre of vodka and had taken two grams of cocaine prior to the accident.
He said in the garda interview: "I know I should have stopped, I was in shock. I am sorry for what I have done. I said to my friend did I really hit a kid?"
Gda O'Doherty told the court that when he was asked what speed he was doing, he said he was not sure but he was over the limit.
He told gardai that as he got to the bend, his friend suddenly said turn left and Vanessa was in the middle of
the road. His friends told him after he hit the toddler that he should have stopped but he kept driving.
The court heard he could feel the impact as he hit her and he was going at that speed as he thought he was going straight.
One witness said he saw Lane doing handbrake turns in The Maple Centre in Cabra.
Another witness told gardai that at 1pm that day he saw the green car driving on the wrong side of the road just narrowly avoiding a collision.
Another person made a statement that a few minutes before the accident he saw the car doing hand break skids into a car park spot.
Lane also acknowledged he had no insurance on the day of the accident.
His last road traffic offence occurred in February 2011 where he was fined €900 for having no insurance.
Dominic McGinn SC, defending, said his client was at Cabra Garda Station within thirty minutes of the collision where he made admissions to being the driver of the vehicle.
Counsel said Lane did not hide the fact from gardai that he took drink or drugs.
"He accepted he knew the Phoenix Park well and he knew the junction. At every stage he was fully aware of the impact of what he had done." he said.
The court heard Lane came from a supportive family and had a young child.
Counsel said Lane was attending counselling to get his life back on a better track and this event had had a huge effect on him.
Lane had had difficulty with drink and drugs in the past but that was behind him.
"This has made him grow up and be a role model for his son. His feelings towards killing Vanessa are very profound and he recognises he has destroyed Vanessa's family," said Mr McGinn.
Gda O'Doherty said gardaí were flagged down in the Phoenix Park by a civilian who said a child had been struck at the Ratra Triangle. A large group of civilians were standing around the body of a small injured child who was lying in a thick pool of blood.
The child appeared to be unconscious but was breathing deeply and infrequently.
The child's mother, Katarzyna Siatka was screaming hysterically.
Gda Farrell checked the toddler's wrist for a pulse and one was found. Vanessa Siatka was then moved to Temple Street Hospital.
Gda Farrell talked to witnesses and established that a small green car with two males had been driving erratically with loud music playing before it struck the child.
The court heard the impact of the vehicle knocked the child down but it did not stop or slow down and continued around the triangle.
A statement was taken from Ms Siatka and she said she was meeting a friend for coffee and Vanessa was insistent on coming with her.
The mother parked her car at the front of a long line of cars before she met her friend.
They walked for 25 minutes until the mother and daughter returned to the car at 6.05pm that evening.
Vanessa then got into the driver seat of the car where she stayed for ten minutes as her mother was on the phone.
The toddler then expressed an interest in going over to play at the grassy area.
Ms Siatka took Vanessa out through the window of the driver’s side of the car and placed her beside her.
The mother then heard a very loud noise and the sound of wheels.
The mother put her hand down to grab Vanessa's hand but her daughter had already gone onto the road and the car had hit her.
The court heard the car took Vanessa away and it travelled for a few metres.
When Vanessa came out from under the car, her mother could see her daughter’s injuries and the blood.
The toddler was then taken to Temple Street Hospital where she died from the injuries sustained.
The court heard Lane has eight previous convictions including two other road offences.
The following victim impact statement was read out in court:
"My name is Katarzyna Plaszewska Siatka. My family and friends all know me as Kasia. I am Vanessa Siatka’s mammy. I want to make this statement on behalf of my husband, Lukasz Siatka, and myself.
"When we became pregnant with our baby Vanessa, it was like a present from God. We were so happy as parents to be having a baby together. We began to plan our future together with our baby.
"Vanessa was born on the 11th of May, 2013. That was the best day of our lives. The moment we saw Vanessa, we fell in love with her. Every single day Vanessa gave us her love; her smile; and the strength and enthusiasm to exist every day.
"Vanessa made our lives complete. Vanessa was just perfect, with beautiful blue eyes, a perfect pretty face, she was just perfect. She looked just like her Daddy. Every day with Vanessa was new; we watched her learn new things; we taught her new things; and we learned from her too. We watched Vanessa’s personality develop.
"We taught her about life; new words; new lessons every day. Vanessa was very clever, a very quick learner. Our life centered around Vanessa. Everything myself and Lukasz did in our lives was for Vanessa; was for her future.
"We moved to our new home late in 2014. December that year was our first Christmas together in our new home. We picked our new home with Vanessa in mind; with our family in mind; with our future in mind.
"Vanessa had her own bedroom. I remember how exited she was about moving to our new home; having her own bedroom and a new bed. Lukasz and I had lived in Ireland for over 12 years; we had made Ireland our home and we made our home here in Dublin for our family’s future.
"We had a very happy home and a very happy life. We always had a very open home. We have a large circle of friends, who also have young children. They would come to visit us and we would go to visit them in their homes. Vanessa made so many new friends.
"She loved to go to her friends homes for parties and special occasions and they also came to us. Vanessa was a very happy and active child. She loved to go swimming; to the park or playground; or to the activity centre to play with other children.
"Vanessa was a very sociable and friendly child. She would introduce herself to other children and play with them. Even children she had never met before. Every day we thought of new things to do; new surprises; new activities for Vanessa and for all of us as a family. Every day was fulfilled with activity and happiness for all of us.
"We travelled a lot with Vanessa, we travelled around Ireland to show her new things; scenery; we brought her to see the mountains and the sea. We travelled to Poland with Vanessa and she met all of her family in Poland. She had a wonderful time meeting everyone.
"On Easter Sunday, 2015, we had a gathering in our home with family and friends to celebrate Easter. It was a sunny nice day. Easter Monday was another beautiful sunny day in Dublin but we could never have imagined what would happen that evening.
"What started out as a plan to spend my evening with Vanessa in the Phoenix Park to meet friends, play and pick flowers; ended in a nightmare. In one moment we were happy, playing and enjoying ourselves in the park; in the next moment I hear the loud music, a loud engine and everything just happened so quickly; I couldn’t do anything only watch as my baby was taken away from me. For me that was the moment time and my heart stopped.
"The moment the car hit Vanessa it not only swept her away physically, it also took her away from us. Although we know the paramedics and staff at Temple Street tried to save Vanessa, it was at this moment our child was taken from us. All I could do was run to my baby.
"I spoke to her; I told her I loved her and everything would be ok, Daddy was on the way. I prayed for her but as she lay on the road a small tear came from her eye and I knew in my heart that this was her last ‘Goodbye Mammy’.
"Our hearts were shattered, Lukasz and I. Life stopped. We did not know how to exist; how to sleep; how to eat; how to wake up. Every day is a nightmare; even to breath was difficult. I still have nightmares about the accident, they never go away.
"Without Vanessa we will never be the same; never as happy as we were. Vanessa’s room is empty; our home is empty; our lives are empty. For the rest of our lives every day will be a challenge. Our hearts will always be broken because a part of both of us died with Vanessa, People keep telling us –time is a healer-it’s not. Our life now is empty.
"We visit Vanessa’s grave every day to pray; to talk to her; and to be there with her. What else can we do? Vanessa will always be in our memories but we can never see her or hold her again. Only our faith and our love and our angel Vanessa looking over us, helps us to exist.
"We would like to express our thanks for the support of our friends and family; the medical staff at Temple Street Hospital; and all the members of the Garda Siochana involved in this investigation. We thank our community, the Irish public and everyone who offered condolences, support and prayers. We would like to offer special thanks to our Family Liaison Officer, Sergeant Niall Phelan. We hope that Vanessa’s death will be a strong message to everyone to never ever drink or take drugs when driving."