A young car enthusiast wept and thumped his head with his hands as he told gardaí he had killed his best friend in a road crash, a court was told on Monday.
Phelim Coady, who was 20 at the time, was found in tears alongside the body of Stephen Gleeson when officers arrived at the scene of the crash in the townland of Garrykennedy, Co Tipperary.
Mr Gleeson had been thrown from the car’s rear window after it hit a bend and careered across a country road before overturning on June 30th, 2019, at 5am.
The three other occupants of the 1995-registered Toyota Starlet, including Coady, were uninjured.
On October 7th, 2020, Judge Patrick Meghan sentenced Coady, of Garrykennedy, Portroe, Nenagh, Co Tipperary, to two years and six months’ imprisonment, which the judge suspended entirely, after the accused pleaded guilty to dangerous driving causing death, contrary to section 53 (1) of the Road Traffic Act, and driving a dangerously deficient vehicle contrary to sections 54 (1) and (4) of the same act.
Coady – who was also banned from driving for four years – had also admitted to being intoxicated and under the influence of alcohol and cannabis, and driving without insurance, at the time of the offence.
On Monday, the Court of Appeal was told the Director Public Prosecutions (DPP) was appealing the sentence on the grounds it was unduly lenient.
Dylan Redmond BL, for the DPP, told Mr Justice John Edwards, presiding, that Judge Meghan had failed had to give sufficient weight to aggravating factors and placed “excessive weight to matters urged upon him in mitigation”.
However, Mr Redmond did acknowledge that the judge had been placed in “a difficult position” after Mr Gleeson’s family urged him not to jail the accused.
“He had been remarkably compassionate,” Mr Redmond noted.
William O’Brien BL, for Coady, told the three-court judge that the facts of the case were “highly unusual”.
Mr O’Brien said his client had been with a group of friends who had met up for a reunion at a yard close to the scene of the crash.
The car his client had been driving at the time of the tragic accident had previously been owned by Mr Gleeson, counsel explained.
Coady and Mr Gleeson both shared a love of cars and the defendant, Mr O’Brien said, had been keen to demonstrate to his friend the amount of work he had done to the vehicle and that was why the group decided to drive to a nearby village.
“The car couldn’t get out a low gear and the speed did not get higher than 30-40km/h during the three-mile round-trip,” counsel added.
The vehicle did not have any rear seats and, given its dilapidated condition, Mr O’Brien said it was not surprising it had been involved in a road accident.
But the fact that three of the occupants walked away from the car uninjured suggested there was “an element of freak fatality” about the crash.
His client, Mr O’Brien continued, was “essentially a good man” who possessed a “good moral compass”.
When gardai arrived at the scene, Coady was bashing himself on the head and saying, ‘I have killed my best friend’, Mr O’Brien added.
Coady – who graduated with a degree in Automobile Engineering days before the accident – later sought counselling to help him come to terms with events, Mr O’Brien said.
“His remorse is genuine, and he has been left devastated,” he added.
After hearing submissions, Mr Justice Edwards said Coady was “highly intoxicated” at the time of the offending and that “there has to be consequences”.
Reserving the case for judgment, the judge also extended the sympathies of the court to Mr Gleeson’s family and friends.