NewsCrime Desk

Learner driver who was speeding when he hit and killed a teenager is jailed

Gareth Jones
Gareth Jones

An unaccompanied learner driver who was speeding when he hit and killed a teenager has been jailed for nine months.

Gareth Jones (22) swerved to avoid three of the boy's friends as they crossed the road but hit Paul McCormack (16) who had changed direction to try and get back to the path.

Dublin Circuit Criminal Court heard there was a fault with the ABS braking system in his Toyota Avensis but that there was no indication Jones was aware of this. The car had a valid NCT at the time.

Today/yesterday (FRI) Michael Bowman SC, defending, told the court that the victim's mother, Valerie Hyland had presented Jones with a letter prior to the hearing. He said the letter communicated an extraordinary degree of understanding and forgiveness.

Mr Bowman said the letter displayed magnanimity and humanity in wishing Jones well with his life and that she would include Jones in her prayers.

He said the moment had been considerably emotional and said there was no enmity between the families. He said the events had been a tragedy for all concerned.

Jones, of Mellowes Park, Finglas, Dublin pleaded guilty to careless driving causing the death of Paul McCormack at Tolka Valley Road, Finglas on June 26, 2015. He has two minor previous convictions.

The court heard Jones told gardai he was doing 70 to 80 kmph in the area which had a speed limit of 50kmph. After the collision Jones remained at the scene, accepted responsibility and called an ambulance.

The maximum term of imprisonment for this offence is two years.

Judge Melanie Greally said she had come to a very difficult decision given Jones youth and the state of relations between him and Paul's family. She said the court had wider considerations but noted Paul's mother's magnanimity and understanding.

Judge Greally said Jones had been driving in excess of the speed limit and had been undeterred by speed ramps. She said he failed to moderate his speed when he became aware of the group crossing the road and only applied emergency braking at the last minute. She said he displayed a “catastrophic lack of judgement.”

She said as Jones swerved to the right to avoid the group, Paul had moved into the path of the car and suffered fatal head injuries when his head hit the windscreen. She said Jones' driving had been “careless in the extreme.”

Judge Greally noted he held a learner's licence and said the requirement to be accompanied by a fully qualified driver was there for a purpose and if he had been accompanied the outcome may have been different.

She noted that Jones had remained at the scene, called an ambulance and made admissions to gardai. She said he had shown concern for the injured party and shown remorse.

She said the victim impact statement from the McCormack family had been deeply moving and expressed the pain of living without their son. She noted Paul's life had been “full of fun, vitality and promise.”

She noted Jones came from a decent, supportive and pro social family and that he had been deeply affected in the aftermath of the offence. A probation report put him at low risk of re-offending.

Judge Greally said she had to take into account the general deterrent factor of the sentence imposed and did not think a community based sanction would have the necessary deterrent effect.

She imposed a nine month sentence and disqualified Jones from driving for five years. She expressed her condolences to the McCormack family.

Garda Aidan McHugh told Gerardine Small BL, prosecuting, that Paul McCormack and three of his friends were crossing the road towards Tolka Valley Park when they saw a car coming from the left which looked to be “ages away.”

One of the group said he saw the car “rocking” over the ramps with the lights going up in the air and the car got so close that they had to run. He said the car was driving “flat out” and three of the group made it across the road but Paul changed direction and went back towards the other side of the road as he was closer to the kerb.

The car swerved to the right, the direction Paul had gone, and there was a loud bang and clatter as the car hit him. It carried him for a while and he was thrown into the air and hit the ground. The car windscreen was smashed and the registration plate had come off.

Paul was taken to the Mater hospital where he was pronounced dead due to catastrophic brain injuries.

Gda McHugh said he spoke to Jones at the scene and he said he had been driving on Tolka Valley Road when he saw the four friends crossing the road. He said he took evasive action and three males continued across the road but one turned back in the opposite direction. All drug and alcohol tests were clear.

During garda interview Jones said he was a provisional licence holder and accepted he did not have a qualified driver with him in the car. The car was fully insured, taxed and covered by NCT. He said he did not know the speed limit on the road and said he was doing about 70 to 80 kmph.

The forensic collision examiner attended at the scene and inspected the vehicle. The weather and road conditions were good and the area was well lit. The car was in good condition apart from a fault in the ABS braking system which rendered it inoperable leaving the car with only conventional braking.

As a result of this during extreme braking the wheels would tend to lock and steering would not be possible.

The examiner found the speed on impact with Paul McCormack was 62 kmph. He said if the ABS had been operational the driver would have had limited steering and been able to change direction.

He concluded the physical evidence showed the car was straddling the centre line when the driver applied the emergency brake. The driver did not apply emergency braking until the injured party turned back.

Paul's mother ,Valerie Hyland, wrote a letter on behalf of the family in which she outlined how the collision had ripped the family apart and left their home silent and empty. She recalled the happiness Paul had given his family and said the accident had turned their life upside down.

She said the pain had got worse as time went on and they still waited for him to come back.

She described memories of her son “chilling on the sofa”, coming home from school and talking with friends and neighbours. She said his absence had left “a void that cannot be filled.”

Gda McHugh agreed with Michael Bowman SC, defending, that there was no indication that Jones was aware of the fault with the ABS system. He agreed he co-operated fully at the scene and afterwards. He agreed tensions were running high at the scene but Jones remained, accepted responsibility and dialled 999.

He accepted that Jones was remorseful and had expressed this several times. He agreed he was from an extremely decent family and was in full time employment.

Mr Bowman submitted Jones had been assessed as at low risk of re-offending and had the support of his family. He said his client was aware of the enormity of the offence.

Counsel said the Jones family appreciated the enormity of the harm caused on that night to the McCormack family who would never be whole again.

He said Jones was a person of good character with no alcohol or drug issues. He submitted Jones was familiar with the vehicle and there was no indication he was aware of the ABS issue.