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Road tragedy Fireman who reversed into 89-year-old woman convicted of dangerous driving causing death

When the other driver left, Kinsella got back into his vehicle and reversed backwards in order to turn into the Clay Road just over 30 feet behind him but tragically, he collided with Mrs Coyle who had been slowly crossing the road behind him.

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John Kinsella

John Kinsella

John Kinsella

A part-time fireman who knocked down and killed an 89-year-old grandmother when he reversed too quickly around a corner was handed a six-month jail sentence on Monday.

However John Kinsella (37) walked free from Newry Crown Court after Judge Neil Rafferty QC suspended the sentence for three years.

He told the married father-of-three: “I have come to the conclusion that no sentence of imprisonment measured in months could equate to the value of the life Mrs Coyle nor the loss that her family suffered.”

“I have equally come to the conclusion that this is an exceptional case both in terms of the culpability in the driving of the defendant and the personal mitigation that he has,” said the judge who also imposed a two year driving ban.

Two months ago Kinsella, from the Clay Road in Keady, entered a guilty plea to causing the death of 89-year-old Claire Coyle by driving dangerously on the Victoria Road/Clay Road in Keady on 14 August 2018.

In an agreed basis of plea document submitted to the court, prosecution QC David McDowell outlined that just before 6.30pm that day Kinsella parked his Toyota Landcruiser jeep outside McGrane’s shop on Victoria Street and got out to speak to his friend.

When the other driver left, Kinsella got back into his vehicle and reversed backwards in order to turn into the Clay Road just over 30 feet behind him but tragically, he collided with Mrs Coyle who had been slowly crossing the road behind him.

A video of the incident was played on Friday at Newry Crown Court, sitting in Antrim, clearly showing the large jeep reversing at speed and knocking Mrs Coyle down, making a second movement backwards just a couple of seconds after the initial impact.

It also shows Kinsella, a part time fireman for 18 years, immediately getting out of his car and kneeling down beside the fatally injured pensioner before others run to the scene to help.

Mrs Coyle, described by her daughter as having been “mentally sharp and in good health for her age,” was taken to Craigavon Area Hospital where “her low level of consciousness was suggestive of a serious head injury” and sadly, she was pronounced dead at 8.20pm that night.

Police who arrived at the scene spoke to Kinsella and he admitted he had knocked her over, telling cops he “had not seen her.”

The scene and CCTV footage was examined by Damien Coll, a vehicle collision expert, who calculated it took Kinsella 4.2 seconds to reverse 9.765 metres and Mr McDowell said the engineer “performed a similar manoeuvre at what he considered to be a safe speed - took him 11 seconds between the same points.”

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The senior lawyer said Mr Coll had also concluded that depending on various factor, “the pedestrian may not have been visible in any of the mirrors when the driver commenced to reverse the Toyota car.”

“The prosecution is therefore unable to suggest that the reason Mr Kinsella struck Mrs Coyle was a failure to look in his mirrors before beginning to reverse,” said Mr McDowell.

During police interviews three days later, Kinsella told cops that he would have checked his mirrors but that the view in the central rear-view mirror “wasn’t great due to the spare tyre partially covering the window.”

Kinsella said he thought he had hit a child’s toy or a ball or perhaps a bike so he looked but couldn’t see anything and “actually went to go back again but someone shouting stopped him and he got out and saw Mrs Coyle lying on the ground.”

It was Kinsella who phoned for the ambulance, describing himself as being in a panic, thinking “What have I done?”.

Kinsella, said the judge, was already suffering from PTSD but his responsibility for causing Mrs Coyle’s death had exacerbated that condition because “the marked difference between this accident and those he attended as a firefighter was what he was responsible for this tragedy.”

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