'Very sorry'  | 

Donegal driver unknowingly killed childhood friend in hit and run while disqualified

"I was not aware I had killed someone. I panicked and I knew I was disqualified."

Paul Dooher arriving at a special sitting of Letterkenny District Court. (North West Newspix)

Stephen Maguire

A motorist unknowingly killed his childhood friend who was traveling along a country road on a scooter.

Motorist Paul Dooher struck Jason Haughey outside Letterkenny in Co Donegal in the early hours of June 15th, 2020.

Plasterer Dooher, who was disqualified from driving at the time, panicked and fled the scene.

He only found out later that the man he had struck and killed was his lifelong friend Jason Haughey, aged 30.

Dooher, 28, appeared at Letterkenny Circuit Court where he pleaded guilty to a number of related charges.

They include failing to report an accident to Gardai, driving without insurance, unauthorised taking of a vehicle and driving with out a license.

Members of the deceased man's family were all in court.

The court heard how Dooher had earlier had a row with his then girlfriend Sylvia Darby and took her car without her permission.

He then drove off and went to the beach with friends to "clear his head."

At approximately 3am he was driving along Windyhall when he "clipped" something that came out from behind a hedge.

It transpired Dooher had struck Mr Haughey who was riding a three wheeled scooter and who wearing dark clothing.

Dooher, from Culdoire, Gortlee, Letterenny, who was driving a blue Vauxhall Vectra, fled the scene.

Garda foresenic officers at the scene of the hit and run where a man lost his life. (North West Newspix)

A passing milkman found the critically injured Mr Haughey on the roadway around 4am and he was rushed to Letterkenny University Hospital but was pronounced dead a short time later.

Garda Kathriona Flynn told the court an investigation was launched and Gardai used CCTV to track the car and then interviewed Dooher who made full admissions to the incident later that day at Letterkenny Garda station.

His car was examined and a forensic examination carried out which showed his car had been involved in the collision.

A post mortem had been carried out on the deceased man which showed multiple traumatic injuries including bleeding to the brainstem and that death would have been instantaneous.

Victim impact statements from Mr Haughey's sister and his girlfriend were read out in court.

His girlfriend Niamh Harley said they had been together on and off for 12 years and that Mr Haughey was her first love and best friend.

"His death has broken my heart. He would have done anything for me. I will never forget him," said.

The dead man's sister Chantelle Diver said her brother was always pushing her to do better in life and he was like a second dad to her.

She was heartbroken that he will never see her get married or see her children and that so many people had contacted her to say how much Jason was loved.

She added that he was the real victim and added that his laugh was infectious and could "fill a room."

The accused man took to the witness stand and said he wanted the family of Mr Haughey to know how sorry he was.

He said "Im very sorry to the Haughey and Diver families and to Niamh, Jason's partner. I didn't intend to hurt anyone. Jason was a childhood friend. I was not aware I had killed someone. I panicked and I knew I was disqualified and panic took over.

"I was heartbroken and I'm still heartbroken when I heard it was Jason. Not a day goes by that I don't dwell on it.

But he vowed "Im going to change my life and be a good father to my sons and one day my family can be proud of me. I'm very sorry."

Dooher's barrister, Mr Shane Costelloe, SC, said it was clear that this was an accident and if it was anything other than that the State would have prosecuted for something more serious.

He said his client had a chequered past but the awful irony was that he struck his lifelong friend which only heightened his sense of despair.

He added that the anguish stays with him and he wakes up at night reliving the incident.

Gardai revealed that the accused has 20 previous convictions for a range of offences including dangerous driving, having no insurance, public order, assault and possession of a knife.

Judge John Aylmer said the case involved leaving somebody injured at the side of the road ignorant to the fact that they needed medical attention.

He added it was a serious case which required careful consideration and he adjourned the final sentencing until next Tuesday.

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