A sentencing judge told a young motorist who drove over a man on a country road that he did not cause the man’s death, but that his “big moral failing” was in not staying with the deceased and calling the emergency services.
Judge Helen Boyle said Conor Morrissey of Cecilstown, Mallow, Co Cork, had caused more heartache and distress by this failure.
She imposed an 18-month suspended sentence on Morrissey for endangerment by his driving, and lesser concurrent sentences for other counts.
The defendant was banned from driving for three years.
Morrissey, who is now aged 23, pleaded guilty to reckless endangerment, failing to stop at the scene of an incident, and driving without licence or insurance at Ballybane in Liscarroll, Co Cork, on June 17, 2018.
Inspector Hugh Twomey said the deceased Alistair Hines was a 67-year-old man who had been out socialising at the local GAA club and was driven home by a neighbour after the night out on June 16 2018 and left at the front gate of his home.
The following morning his wife went out to the front gate and found him lying on the road and it was apparent that he had suffered serious injury and was deceased on the road, Insp Twomey said. He said it was also apparent there had been a collision with a motor vehicle.
“He had been rolled over,” Insp Twomey said.
The deceased man’s wife, Moira McPherson, gave victim evidence: “Sometimes I can’t get the picture of him lying on the road dead out of my head – the overwhelming panic and anguish reasserts itself. This is followed by a deep, profound sadness. I cannot forgive anyone who left Ali on the side of the road like he was nothing more than roadkill.
“I have a beautiful red rose growing in the ditch where Ali died. Planted to commemorate the World Day of Remembrance for road traffic victims. It makes me smile to see the rose blooming but this is bittersweet as the deep red colour reminds me of his blood running down the road.
“I am heartbroken that Ali is never coming home… The impact of Ali’s death has been devastating.”
Sentencing the young man, Judge Helen Boyle said: “It is not the state’s case that your driving caused the death of Mr Hines… But you should have stayed with the deceased person and called the emergency services.
“You did not cause the death of Mr Hines but the big moral failing here was the failing to remain at the scene. I have heard from his widow and this caused additional heartache - leaving him dead on the side of the road caused the family additional devastation.”
The judge noted that the young man had suffered seriously with his health since the accident, getting Covid, suffering a stroke and cardiac failure – and being in an intensive care unit for two weeks. “You present as a physically frail young man who is genuinely remorseful… I am of the view you will not come before the courts again.”
The judge fully suspended the 18-month sentence and disqualified him from driving for three years.
The scene of the collision was forensically examined where the late Alistair Hines was found. Cause of death, as described in the post mortem was, “haematoma and shock due to roll over injuries sustained in a road traffic collision while collapsed due to brain swelling with hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy.”
The report on the deceased also refers to “ingestion of alcohol in the toxic range”.
“On a factual basis the prosecution could not establish that driving rather than the ischemic event caused the death. It could not be established categorically that he was not dead at the time,” Insp Twomey said.
Conor Morrissey was identified as a suspect. He had been out socialising in Kanturk and had six or seven pints of cider. He was dropped home and decided to go for a spin in an 03-registered Opel Corsa that he had bought for €100. There was no issue found in relation to the car’s roadworthiness.
“He had no reason for going for the spin. He said he had run over something that he thought was rubbish. He reversed, came back and realised there was a body on the road. He panicked and went back to a friend’s house. His phone was dead. He panicked. He had no insurance or driving licence.
“He heard (the next morning) gardaí were at the scene. He told his friend he was the one they were looking for. His friend went to the garda checkpoint and told them.
“He (Morrissey) said if (the person) was standing he would have seen (him). Prior to running over the body he (the defendant) had gone into a ditch. That was approximately 300 metres before. He reversed out of it,” Insp Twomey said.
The defendant was 19 at the time of this incident. His health has been poor since contracting Covid in Northern Ireland.
Defence senior counsel Elizabeth O’Connell said: “He instructs me to say – whether it can be accepted or not – that he sincerely apologises for his driving on the night. He hopes that is something you (Ms McPherson) can accept.”
Ms O’Connell said at the sentencing hearing: “Was (defendant’s) behaviour inexcusable beyond words? Yes it was. But he was 19 years old. He should have remained at the scene. We have heard how it caused additional pain for Ms McPherson. He panicked. But the decision to take responsibility came from him. Does that fully wipe out the offence of leaving the scene on the morning? No it does not but it does mitigate it in my submission.”