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'No remorse' Drunk driver took two years to apologise to dad and daughter he almost killed in crash

"He crushed Ciara's spine and destroyed the lives we were living up until that point … and we couldn't even get an apology."

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Billy Coughlan

Billy Coughlan

Billy Coughlan

DRINK DRIVING council boss Billy Coughlan only apologised to a father and daughter he almost killed in a head-on collision on the day he faced them in court.

Luke McKenna and his daughter Ciara today detail the life-altering injuries they sustained when Coughlan ploughed his vehicle head-on into their car while driving on the wrong side of the N52 at Rochfort Demesne, Mullingar on April 4, 2019.

Despite being four times over the limit, the former Westmeath Council official escaped jail after Mullingar Circuit Court heard he had, since the accident, been diagnosed with dementia.

In lieu of a jail term, Judge Keenan Johnson, who noted Coughlan's "primary motivation seems to be self-preservation", suspended a five-and-a-half year jail term and banned him from driving for life.

Judge Keenan made the comment after hearing how Coughlan (65), who claimed to remember nothing of the accident, told Gardaí at the scene he had consumed just two pints and later wrongly told officers conscientious learner-driver Ciara hadn't had her headlights on.

Today, Luke and Ciara reveal how Coughlan's drink-driving shattered their formerly carefree lives and how his failure to apologise in the two-and-a-half years after the crash heaped further trauma on them.

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Luke and Ciara Mc Kenna who were seriously injured in a head on collision with drunk driver Billy Coughlan on the N52

Luke and Ciara Mc Kenna who were seriously injured in a head on collision with drunk driver Billy Coughlan on the N52

Luke and Ciara Mc Kenna who were seriously injured in a head on collision with drunk driver Billy Coughlan on the N52

"To us, that showed a lack of remorse," said Ciara, whose lower spine was crushed in the accident and whose ankle had to be completely rebuilt.

"It's hard to express how hurtful that was."

"He could even have sent us a letter," added Luke. "Instead there was nothing until the court case. That was one of the worst parts of all of this for us.

"He crushed Ciara's spine and destroyed the lives we were living up until that point … and we couldn't even get an apology."

"It is outrageous he walked free. But he had this letter saying he had vascular dementia.

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"We got closure - not justice - but we have to move on now because this has eaten at us for the last two and a half years. And we're very pleased that there was a life-time driving ban. That was very important because it means he can never get behind the wheel of a car again.

"And that means that no other family will ever again have to go through what we went through at his hands."

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Luke suffered horrific injuries

Luke suffered horrific injuries

Luke suffered horrific injuries

Recalling the day of the crash, Luke said the pair had been sitting at home and debating whether to go out for a drive.

"We were debating it because it was a miserable day," said Luke.

But, he said, they decided to press ahead as Ciara, who had been driving on main roads for eight or nine months prior to the crash, was preparing for her driving test.

"We decided we'd go out for an hour," said Luke. "I'd drive as far as Horseleap and Ciara would drive back.

"It's something we'd do on a regular basis.

"I'd drive the road out so Ciara would have a working knowledge of the road and then she'd drive back. After getting as far as Horseleap, Ciara took over at the wheel.

She then made her way to Kilbeggan and on to the N52 where, at Rochfort Demesne, she saw Coughlan's headlights bearing down on her on her side of the road.

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Some of the horrific injuries

Some of the horrific injuries

Some of the horrific injuries

"I saw the lights coming straight at my vehicle," Ciara recalled. "And I said: 'Daddy, where's this car going? Where's this car going? And then, there was just a big bang and his car was in my bonnet.

"I was still conscious. The airbags had gone off but I couldn't open the doors.

"I looked over at dad and I thought he was dead. I was numb at that stage, so I had no idea how badly I was hurt. I thought I was paralysed because that's how I felt."

Luke continued: "When the airbag went off, it broke my nose and the blood was flowing down my chest.

"I was knocked unconscious and I was motionless, so Ciara thought I was dead.

"When I came to, I heard her screaming: 'My daddy's dead. My daddy's dead'."

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Luke was left battered and bruised

Luke was left battered and bruised

Luke was left battered and bruised

Two plain clothes gardai who had been in a car travelling 30 seconds behind Ciara's were first on the scene and raised the alarm.

"Two fire brigades arrived, and they got the doors open and managed to ease us out of the car," recalled Luke.

"I had a suspected broken nose. I had a bleed on my chest and three blood clots, one in my neck, one in my chest and one in my hip. And there was damage down my leg because it had gone through the glove box.

"I've been told I'll have to have an operation on my foot at some stage."

Ciara's injuries were even worse than her father's.

"I had a broken spine," said Ciara. "From L3 to L5 … the bottom of my spine was basically crushed, and my ankle was shattered.

"They had to put four screws and two rods into my spine. And they had to put a metal plate and screws into my foot. I was sent home with a walking frame and a wheelchair."

For Ciara, the accident spelled the end of her career in social care, which she was studying in college, and also her job in retail working in Dealz in the town.

"Before the accident, life was good and care-free," said Ciara. "All I worried about was school and work, not injuries and pain. Afterwards, my life was very different.

"I was in a lot of pain - excruciating pain.

"I used to scream every night and even now my back locks up two to three times a week. My life is completely changed now.

"Retail is gone, social care is gone, all that is gone. And I've no interest in doing anything at the moment other than focusing on getting better. I was building my future. That's what he took from me."

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Luke's injuries

Luke's injuries

Luke's injuries

For Luke, it destroyed his ambitions for running in the local elections in 2019 and killed off the opening of his new clothes shop Tailored Fashions Menswear in Moate.

"Those lives were stolen from us," said Luke.

Asked if they had a message for any other motorist considering driving their car after drinking, Luke answered: "I'd ask them to think about what Ciara has gone through.

"Think about the life-changing injuries she has suffered. She came within a hair's breadth of being paralysed for the rest of her life. We're lucky we didn't die.

"This is what getting into a car after drink can cause. Don't be that driver. Because, the next family mightn't survive to tell their story."

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