Drunk, speeding driver jailed for crash that killed teen girl has prison term increased
Róisín’s father Michael said not a day went by that he did not visit her grave and that he cried every day when thinking of her
A drunk, speeding driver who was jailed for 18 months for a crash that claimed the life of a 16-year-old girl, causing her father “never-ending pain”, has had his jail term increased by a year by the Court of Appeal.
Michael Welby (24), of Loughgannon, Roscahill, was sentenced at Galway Circuit Court last July, after he pleaded guilty to dangerous driving causing the death of teenager Róisín Hession after the car he was driving hit a wall in the townland of Porridgetown, Co Galway, in March 2020.
The sentencing court heard that Welby had been been drinking and speeding on the night while driving a car with defective tyres.
Róisín’s father, Michael, wrote a victim impact statement saying there was not a day that went by that he did not visit her grave and that he cried every day when thinking of her.
In sentencing, Judge Brian O’Callaghan said that the needs of society to deter others from dangerous driving meant that Welby had to go to prison. Judge O'Callaghan sentenced Welby to three years’ imprisonment with the final 18 months suspended for two years.
Today, the State successfully appealed the sentence, submitting it was unduly lenient and that the headline, pre-mitigation sentence of five years identified by the trial judge was too low.
Ms Hession died as a result of a single-vehicle collision shortly after 1am on March 1, 2020, when the car crashed at a local road at Porridgetown, Oughterard, after gardaí attempted to stop the speeding vehicle.
The court heard that Ms Hession and Welby had been socialising at a friend’s house in the Oughterard area, and that Welby had also been drinking at two pubs in the village that night.
Ms Hession had left the house to go home but got a lift from Welby, who drove towards Oughterard.
Garda Peter Naughton told the sentencing hearing he saw Welby’s Volkswagen Passat driving at speed and activated blue lights to get the car to stop.
However, Welby sped away and turned onto a country road where Gda Naughton later found the car crashed after it flipped and collided with a bank of trees and then a wall 40 metres away.
Gda Naughton found Welby hanging out the driver's side window and only upon inspection saw there was also a passenger, Ms Hession, in the car. Gda Naughton performed CPR on Ms Hession until paramedics arrived but she died at the scene.
Welby was tested for alcohol, which revealed the presence of 125mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood.
Two of the car’s tyres were found to be dangerously defective, as was one wheel’s shock absorber. The Passat also had a tinted window sticker that allowed 18pc transparency when the legal limit was 60pc transparency.
Welby had also told gardaí that he saw the flashing blue lights of the pursuing vehicle but that he did not know that the lights belonged to a Garda car.
Today at the three-judge Court of Appeal, Geri Silke BL, for the State, successfully argued that Welby's sentence was unduly lenient.
Ms Silke said Welby was driving at twice the legal limit and pointed out that that blood sample was only taken over two hours after the crash.
Ms Silke said that Welby “chose” to get into the car, had a knowledge of cars and knew it had two bald tyres.
Counsel said that Welby’s five-year headline sentence had already been discounted by a “huge” 40pc down to three years’ imprisonment before the suspended 18 months was applied.
Ms Silke said a 16-year-old girl had lost her life and the sentence was “simply too light”.
Conall MacCarthy BL, for Welby, said the trial judge had given “careful consideration” to the construction of the sentence.
Mr MacCarthy said Welby had a good work history and no previous convictions to his name at the time and had entered a “genuinely remorseful” guilty plea and apology to the family. Mr MacCarthy said that speed was the main cause of the fatal accident and that his client had admitted this liability to gardaí.
Ms Justice Isobel Kennedy said Welby had sped up to avoid apprehension which led to a garda pursuit.
Mr Justice John Edwards, presiding, said the case was a “heart-rending” one given the harm done to the Hession family.
In quashing the original sentence today, Ms Justice Kennedy said the sentence had been unduly lenient in a case of dangerous driving causing death.
Ms Justice Kennedy noted conditions on the day were poor in that a red weather warning had been issued the day before and that Welby had been “reserved” in telling gardaí how much alcohol he had consumed.
Ms Justice Kennedy described the loss of Ms Hession as a “tragedy” for the family and the court noted that her father was enduring “never-ending pain” and “devastation” in addition to the loss of Ms Hession's mother when she was eight years old.
The judge said the DPP had argued that the five-year headline sentence represented a “substantial departure from the norm” in such cases.
Ms Justice Kennedy said the aggravating factors in the case were that Welby drove at speed to avoid apprehension in a defective vehicle while over the limit in bad conditions and that his “serious recklessness” led to a "tragic consequence”.
Ms Justice Kennedy said the headline sentence of five years was to be quashed as it amounted to an error in principle.
Ms Justice Kennedy said the court would re-sentence Welby to a six-year headline sentence with two years discounted for his guilty plea and remorse. The judge said the court would apply the same 18-month suspended portion to the remaining four years, leaving two-and-a-half years to serve with a four-year driving ban still in place.
At the sentencing hearing, Mr MacCarthy said he was instructed to make a full apology to Mr Hession, and the Hession family for “a series of catastrophic errors of judgment” by Welby that meant Ms Hession “lost her life at an age when no-one should”.
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