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exceptional charity Car crash victim asks for mercy for dangerous driver who was handed jail sentence

Student who suffered life-changing injuries and was in an induced coma for weeks asks court to be lenient

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Manoj and his dad were seriously injured in the smash.

Manoj and his dad were seriously injured in the smash.

Manoj and his dad were seriously injured in the smash.

A man left with life-changing injuries after a head-on crash with a dangerous driver is relieved the man responsible won’t spend long in prison.

Manoj Kataram’s request for mercy for the driver had been heeded at the original trial, but last month the Director of Public Prosecutions won an appeal to have Spiddal man Niall Conneely sent to prison.

Galway-based student Manoj feared Conneely had been sentenced to four years in prison when, in fact, three years were suspended.

“Thank you for telling me that, I was feeling so sorry for him. Four years — what do you do with four years wasting time down the drain?” Manoj said.

Despite suffering life-changing injuries and needing intravenous nutrition, Manoj compared the crash to blaming someone over an accidental bump on the footpath.

“If someone stubbed your toe by mistake on the street what would you do? It is the same,” he said.

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Castlerea Prison in Co Roscommon.

Castlerea Prison in Co Roscommon.

Castlerea Prison in Co Roscommon.

 

His remarkable attitude towards forgiving the man who smashed into his car, leaving Manoj and his father in intensive care, impressed a trial judge last January.

Judge Rory McCabe at Galway Circuit Court said he would suspend a four-year sentence imposed on Conneely due to the “exceptional level of charity” shown by Manoj.

Last month appeal court president Justice George Birmingham noted that sometimes a victim might want the judge to ‘throw away the key’.

“I’m not sure that if a victim is extraordinarily charitable, that can be determinative either,” he said.

Explaining his forgiving attitude, Manoj told the Sunday World he had no idea what had happened to him in the aftermath of the crash.

“I didn’t have any conscious feeling of ‘someone hit me and someone is to blame’. For the first two months I wasn’t even able to contemplate my situation because I was in such a state.

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“I was in an induced coma for four or five weeks, it was a very bad time.”

In his astonishing victim impact statement, Manoj recalled being intubated while semi-conscious in terrifying confusion.

“It felt like I had lived and died several lifetimes and was not getting out of the loop. I wished I could die and stay dead, the time felt like an eternity,” he said.

After coming out of the coma, constant pain left him “crying and shouting till I had no energy to do so.”

“I wished to have died instead of enduring this unending pain,” Manoj said.

He spent 11 weeks in the National Rehabilitation Hospital where he had to come to terms with the effects of the brain injury he had suffered.

“The path to recovery was long, but I never knew it would be so long and set me back so much. For the first year, every day felt like a battle to get through.”

Yet despite the gruelling effects of his multiple injuries, Manoj finished his victim impact statement on a forgiving tone.

He said thinking back to the accident the driver “could have hit anyone, it was wrong but not intentional.”

He said: “I want the person involved in the incident to reform and utilise his time constructively. We all have lost a lot of time which is the only thing we cannot earn back.”

Manoj continues to suffer from his significant injuries.

At the original trial, at which Conneely pleaded guilty to dangerous driving and driving without insurance, evidence was heard about the crash in October 2018, just a few weeks after Manoj arrived to do his masters degree in bio-engineering.

A garda witness who arrived at the scene found Manoj and his father Sanghodara in a Toyota Corolla while Conneely, sitting on the side of the road, had suffered a cut to his head.

An eye-witness told officers Conneely’s vehicle veered on to the wrong side of the road and the two vehicles collided head-on.

All three crash victims were taken from the scene to University Hospital Galway.

When he was arrested on November 11 for suspected dangerous driving, Conneely admitted to gardai he had been drinking at the pub and did not have insurance for the vehicle.

Taking the stand in court last January Conneely said: “I’m so sorry. I can’t say in words how sorry I am.”

When asked how he felt about Manoj not wanting him to go to prison, he said: “I’m so thankful for what he said. I don’t know that I would be able to say it.”

His lawyer told the court that Conneely had been living and working in England up to 2015, when he returned to Ireland to care for his father who has since passed away.

He developed an alcohol problem after his return to Ireland but had been getting counselling.

The trial judge said based on the statement from Manoj he would “with considerable reservation” order Conneely to perform 240 hours of community service instead of the four-year sentence.

“In the absence of the charitable attitude of the principal injured party I would have been reluctant to suspend any part of the sentence,” he said.

“I’m mindful that justice must be viewed through the prism of the victims, not just the public,” Judge McCabe said, adding that Manoj showed an “exceptional level of charity” in his plea for mercy.

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