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tragic loss Mum of girl (3) killed in car crash feels 'vindicated' after court decision but says law needs to change

On Tuesday, the Court of Criminal ruled that a €1,500 fine originally handed down to truck driver Senan O’ Flaherty was too lenient given the culpability of his driving in the death of the three-year-old girl.

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Amy Dutil-Wall with daughter Estlin

Amy Dutil-Wall with daughter Estlin

Amy Dutil-Wall with daughter Estlin

THE HEARTBROKEN mother of a three-year-old girl, killed in an accident caused by careless driving, has praised a Court of Appeal decision to impose a sentence on the driver.

But said Amy Dutil-Wall, mother of tragic crash victim Estlin Wall, the time has now come for a review of road traffic laws to ensure custodial sentences are imposed in cases where careless driving leads to death.

On Tuesday the Court of Criminal ruled that a €1,500 fine originally handed down to truck driver Senan O’ Flaherty was too lenient given the culpability of his driving in the death of the three-year-old girl.

The three-judge court instead imposed a 16-month sentence but suspended the entire term on condition that he is of good behaviour for two years.

The court found that the original trial judge was wrong to place O’Flaherty’s culpability at the lower end of the scale with Ms Justice Isobel Kennedy saying he was at the “upper end” and that his blameworthiness was more significant than that identified by the judge.

Estlin was just days away from her fourth birthday when she was killed in an accident on 15 March 2017 on the N85 between Inagh and Ennistimon.

The tot was being driven by her father Vincent from their home in Ennistymon to her creche in nearby Inagh.

O’Flaherty was travelling in the opposite direction and made what was described as `a bad move’ to pull out from behind a bus on that stretch of road.

As a result of that manoeuvre, Mr Wall’s car mounted a grass verge and lost control, causing catastrophic injuries to his little girl and life-changing injuries to himself.

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Heartache: Amy Dutil-Wall with daughter Estlin, who died in March 2017 just before her fourth birthday

Heartache: Amy Dutil-Wall with daughter Estlin, who died in March 2017 just before her fourth birthday

Heartache: Amy Dutil-Wall with daughter Estlin, who died in March 2017 just before her fourth birthday

Estlin died a number of days later at Temple Street Children’s University Hospital in Dublin and her organs were donated to save two other lives.

Addressing the Court of Appeal ruling, mum Amy welcomed the imposition of a sentence on Flaherty but told the Sunday World: “I definitely think jail time should have been included.

“Still we weren’t expecting that jail time would be imposed as it is very rare to impose jail time in a case of careless driving even when it leads to death.

“We do feel vindicated however in that the three judge court has ruled that the original judge erred in assessing the level of Senan O’Flaherty’s culpability and also in ruling the original sentence was unduly lenient.

“There really isn’t any more we can do now.

“The court process has been so long and drawn out and it has taken so much from us emotionally.

“To be able to say the court aspect of this is over with is a relief and to know that the prosecutor did everything in their power to get some measure of justice for Estlin.”

Speaking of legislative changes needed to deal with cases such as Estlin’s, Amy said both she and husband Vincent believe there are major differences between the levels of culpability and severity of consequences in the range of cases being identified as ‘careless driving.’

She said the law in this respect needs to be looked at again so no other family will go through an ordeal like they have in pursuit of justice.

“If you look at the consequences of what happened that day then it’s not just Estlin’s death you have to consider,” she said.

“Vincent has been left with a brain injury.

“If he (Senan O’Flaherty) had been sent to jail then it might have sent a message out to other drivers that, yes, you are responsible for the consequences of your actions behind the wheel.”

At Monday’s hearing, Shane Costelloe SC for the DPP asked the Court of Appeal to impose a custodial sentence to act as a deterrent.

Outlining the facts, he said O’Flaherty was driving his heavy goods vehicle behind a bus which was accelerating and slowing down “erratically”.

He said that O’Flaherty may have become frustrated by the continuously changing speed and was seen by witnesses in cars behind him driving “right up behind the bus”.

Counsel submitted that at the first point on the road where it was legal to overtake, O’Flaherty crossed over the median line either to overtake or to see if it would be possible to overtake.

By crossing the line, counsel said, he caused Wall to take evasive action. Wall lost control of his Skoda Fabia which did a 360 degree turn and was in collision with an oncoming car that had been driving behind O’Flaherty’s truck.

Wall’s daughter, who was in the back seat strapped into a baby seat, suffered catastrophic injuries and died.

Costelloe said the sentencing judge had erred by accepting a statement by O’Flaherty that he only crossed the median line because he saw the bus crossing it and thought there might be a pedestrian or cyclist on the left side of the road.

Counsel said the judge had found that the only error committed by O’Flaherty was in driving too close to the rear of the bus.

Ms Justice Kennedy said that none of the witnesses saw anything on the left side of the road which would have caused O’Flaherty to pull out and all were of the opinion that he pulled out to see if it would be possible to overtake.

She said it was surprising that O’Flaherty, who knew the road well, would have attempted to overtake a bus at that point in the road.

She said the court was persuaded that the trial judge was in error in placing the truck driver’s responsibility at the lowest end of the scale and said the penalty imposed was a substantial departure from the appropriate sentence.

O’Flaherty, who was watching proceedings from his solicitor’s office, entered into the bond to be of good behaviour for two years. He has already paid the €1,500 fine.


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