NewsCrime Desk

Wife of Kildare councillor killed in hit and run says: "I do not look forward to my future"

Claire Doyle
Claire Doyle

The man who knocked down and killed Kildare councillor Willie Crowley in December 2015 was speeding and didn't brake, a court has heard.

Damien Klasinski (29) is facing a custodial sentence at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court after pleading guilty to dangerous driving causing the death of Mr Crowley on Eyre Street, Newbridge.

Mr Crowley (56) died from his head injuries in Naas Hospital a few days after he was struck by the uninsured vehicle on the evening of December 15, 2015.

Sinead Crowley’s victim impact statement reads as follows:

“Tuesday the 15th December 2015 started out a normal day, a day closer to Christmas holidays and looking forward to spending time with family and friends.

“All that changed suddenly. I received a phone call saying my husband Willie had been knocked down as he was making his way home in the early evening to prepare a menu for a Christmas dinner for those in need. Willie cooked this voluntarily for many years on Christmas day.

“I was driven to Naas hospital by a member of the Gardai. Nothing could have prepared me for what awaited me there - my husband Willie’s battered, bruised and broken body, his shattered skull and some hours the devastating news that there was nothing that could be done because of the severity of the brain injuries. I spent the next three days and nights at Willies bedside hoping against hope for a miracle.

“The miracle did not happen. Willie never regained consciousness after being hit by the car three days previously. I said goodbye to my husband on Friday December 18th in an ICU ward where he was incubated. The brutal violence of his death shocked me to my core - a shock that has yet to leave me.

“In a daze and numbed by shock, on December 23rd, just two days before Christmas, I was in the church where the funeral of my beloved Willie took place.

“The immediate sense of loss was overwhelming. Panic, anxiety, fear, insomnia, loss of concentration, loss of confidence plus the loss of identity continues to this day.

“The support of family and friends cannot replace the loss of someone taken so suddenly and so brutally.

“With energy, ability and enthusiasm in abundance, Willie was entering a new phase of his life preparing to stand as a candidate in the general election. I am acutely aware of the unfulfilled potential which adds to my loss.

“The futility of Willie’s death at the hands of someone so careless of their own social responsibility has made it hard to reconcile that while included in prayers at Willie’s funeral the defendant was hiding in a cupboard with a packed suitcase, instead of facing up to the recklessness of his actions.

“The effect left me despairing of human nature and the capacity for some people to be so devoid of social responsibility.

“It is ironic that a few months previously the ambassador of the native country of the defendant wrote to Willie to thank him for the assistance he gave to local Polish families whose homes had been destroyed by fire.

“Willie worked tirelessly to improve the community of Newbridge. Willie did not discriminate and helped people from all walks of life. The huge loss to the community has exacerbated my loss of the love of my life. I have lost my husband, my best friend, my confidant and I do not look forward to my future.”

Klasinski of The Oaks, Newbridge, Co Kildare drove off after hitting Mr Crowley. He told the three others passengers in the car: “What am I supposed to do?”.

After his arrest he told gardaí that he had panicked, saying: “I am very sorry. It was an accident. I'm really hoping this man recovers”.

In her victim impact statement Mr Crowley's widow Claire Doyle said that her husband was taken from her “so brutally” and that her home is no longer a home.

 “I have lost my husband, my best friend, my confidant and I do not look forward to my future,” she said.

The victim's sister Breda Crowley-Arnold said her brother's name was a byword in her family for all that was good and admirable.

Detective Garda Sergeant James O'Sullivan told Lorcan Staines BL, prosecuting, that Mr Crowley was walking home from the pub on the night but was not intoxicated.

He was crossing the street when Klasinski's car struck him. One witness said the impact sent the victim flying into the air.

He said that the driver didn't sound his horn or apply the brakes. Sgt O'Sullivan said that Klasinski met an oncoming vehicle and the street was too narrow for both vehicles to pass together.

Klasinski swerved in without braking to let the vehicle pass and swerved out again. Mr Crowley had been waiting behind the other vehicle and was standing in the middle of the road.

Klasinski said he swerved unsuccessfully to avoid the victim. He said he had only just set out on the road and was driving at around the speed limit of 50km/hr.

Willie Crowley

Eye witnesses estimated him to be travelling at speeds in excess of this and up to 80 km/hr. It had rained earlier in the day making the road wet and the street lighting was poor.

Judge Melanie Greally said Klasinski was driving at a speed much too fast for the conditions on the night. She adjourned the case to May 12 next for sentence.

Mr Staines said the prosecution was taken on the basis that the accused was driving at an unsafe speed in circumstances where the ground was wet and on a dark winter night in an area where people were around.

The court heard Klasinski, a Polish native, has 13 previous convictions mainly for road traffic offences. In June 2016 he was disqualified from driving for two years for driving without insurance in November 2015.

In February 2017 he was convicted at Cork District Court for drunk driving on a date in February 2015.

The court heard details of a testimonial from a prison chaplain who stated that Klasinski felt genuinely profound remorse.

“He relives this tragedy everyday. He cannot forgive himself,” the chaplain wrote.

Matthias Kelly QC, defending, said that his client was in a total blind panic when he drove away from the scene.

He said Klasinski realises the Crowley family have lost a cherished husband and is deeply remorseful. He fully admitted what he had done and wanted now to offer his sincere apology and condolences to the family, counsel said.

The maximum penalty for the offence is ten years imprisonment. Charges of failure to remain at the scene of an accident and failure to assist at the scene are to be taken into consideration by the court.

The court heard that the victim was on the way home from his local pub to prepare a menu for a Christmas dinner for those in need. A shopping list was found in his pocket.

The victim's widow described the trauma and shock of seeing her husband's battered, bruised and broken body and his shattered skull.

She said he was preparing to stand as a candidate in the general election when he was injured.

“I spent the next three days and nights at Willie's bedside hoping against hope for a miracle,” she said. She said that “the brutal violence of his death” shocked her to her core.

“Panic, anxiety, fear, insomnia, loss of concentration, loss of confidence plus the loss of identity continues to this day,” she said.

The victim's sister said in her statement that she and her brother were orphans and he became her “adored big brother, teacher and mentor”.

She said his personality filled a room and he was a light that brightened every happy occasion. She said he fought to overcome all adversity and threw himself into public life.

Ms Crowley-Arnold said: “As Christians we are obliged to forgive Mr Klasinski, which we do. We do not seek vengeance,” but said the family wanted to see justice.

Judge Greally asked if Klasinski's failure to stop at the scene had any consequences in delaying medical attention. Mr Staines said it didn't as there were many people around and he received immediate medical attention.

After the passengers in the car came forward Klasinski became a suspect. Gardaí found him hiding in the wardrobe in a friend's house and arrested him.

He told them he was hiding because he was scared. “I am very sorry, it was an accident”.

Klasinski said that he had been blinded by the very bright head lights of the vehicle he met on the street. He said he saw the victim come out from behind this car it was too late to break and he veered to avoid him.

He told gardaí that he had driven off because he panicked.

One passenger who was in the car with Klasinski said that the speed of driving was such that he nearly went through the windscreen of the car when the car hit Mr Crowley.

He estimated Klasinski was driving at around 80 km/hr and said he always drove too fast. Another passenger said Klasinski was driving a bit faster than normal. He also said the lights of the oncoming car were very strong.

In mid-2016 Klasinski's legal team applied to have the case transferred from Kildare Circuit Court after they argued that he wouldn't be able to get a fair trial in the county because of the victim's public profile and the level of sympathy.

Mr Kelly said there was no evidence that his client had been under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Mr Staines submitted to the court that the offence of failure to stop at the scene of an accident was to reflect the fact that doing so avoided the mandatory testing carried out to people involved in a collision.

He said that while the prosecution did not rely on any evidence to suggest intoxication or any suspicion, the defence could not advance categorically that he didn't. Judge Greally said she would treat it as a neutral issue in her sentencing.