'effectively exonerated' Truck driver acquitted of careless driving causing serious harm
A truck driver accused of careless driving causing serious harm to a five-year-old schoolboy who got trapped under the wheel of his truck has been acquitted after a judge found the prosecution case against him was “speculative”.
Following legal argument after the first day of his trial in Dublin Circuit Criminal Court, Judge Pauline Codd said the accused man, Joseph Coughlan, had been “effectively exonerated” by the garda investigating the accident.
The trial on Tuesday heard from garda forensic investigator, Sergeant Peter Culleton, who said he believed the accident occurred “very very quickly” and was unavoidable.
The judge said she struggled to find evidence of careless driving in the case and that the prosecution case against Mr Coughlan was made up of “elements which were speculative in nature”.
“I think it would be dangerous to put the charge to the jury,” the judge said, adding she appreciated it was an “unusual ruling”.
The prosecution case against Mr Coghlan had closed but the closing speeches had not yet been made to the jury when defence barrister Oisin Clarke BL sought to have the case thrown out.
On Wednesday, Judge Codd told the jury they were no longer required. She thanked them for their service and formally acquitted Mr Coughlan. The court heard the little boy and his older sister were both struck by the truck as they tried to cross the road with their mother at Ongar in west Dublin four years ago.
The girl was struck by the front bumper of the truck and escaped serious injury, but the little boy, who can't be named for legal reasons, was briefly trapped under the front wheel, the court heard. He spent 23 days in intensive care.
Mr Coughlan (60) of Kilcarrig Close, Fettercairn, Tallaght, Dublin had pleaded not guilty to one count of driving without due care or attention and causing serious bodily harm to the child at Sweeney Mews, Ongar, Dublin 15 on February 16, 2016.
The court heard Mr Coughlan was making a delivery to Dunnes Stores in Ongar and was navigating a turn to get into the delivery bay in the car park when the accident occurred shortly before 9am on the day in question.
In a statement read out to court by prosecuting counsel, Diana Stuart BL, the boy's mother said she was walking to school with her children and chatting to her daughter about her new shoes.
As they went to cross the road, the mother said her daughter was just behind her and her son was just behind her daughter. She said she didn't notice the truck or any other vehicle.
“When I was halfway across the road, I turned and saw (my daughter) getting hit by the truck. She fell to the ground,” she said in her statement. “Then I saw (my son) lying on the ground between the first and second wheels of the truck. The truck had driven completely over his legs. I started screaming.”
The mother was not in court for the trial, but the children's father was present.
The jury was shown photos and CCTV footage of the incident, including a photo of one of the little boy's shoes under the truck wheel.
Mr Coughlan cooperated with gardaí at the scene and made a voluntary statement that same day, the court heard.
He was breathalysed and tested negative for alcohol. The truck was examined and found to be in good condition and road conditions were dry on the day.
Mr Coughlan told gardaí that there was a lot of people around but no one was about to cross the road when he began to turn. He said he was “crawling along” at about a mile or two an hour.
“I looked in my mirrors and it was all clear,” he told gardaí. “I had just started turning and there were a few people on the footpath who started waving at me to stop. I stopped the truck immediately as I knew there was something wrong.”
Sgt Culleton said Mr Coughlan had a “very quick reaction time” to the incident and stopped the vehicle quickly. He said cognisance must be given to the “situational awareness” of the boy's mother when crossing the road.
The boy was taken to Temple Street Hospital in a critical condition, where the court heard he spent 23 days in intensive care and had to be ventilated. He suffered lung and abdomen injuries, among others, and required skin grafting and surgery.
In a statement to the court, his doctor said the boy has made an “excellent” recovery, considering the magnitude of his injuries and is not expected to have any further complications. He has permanent scarring to his abdomen, the court heard.
In seeking to have the case thrown out, Mr Clarke argued that this was an unavoidable accident and that Mr Coughlan met the standard of care when driving his vehicle.
He submitted that the garda investigator in the case agreed that Mr Coughlan had reacted extremely quickly when the accident occurred and exhibited due care and attention in the CCTV footage of the incident.
Ms Stuart argued the case should go before the jury. She submitted that if Mr Coughlan had been paying due care and attention, then the accident wouldn't have happened.