Tuesday 27 September 2016

Drink driver jailed for 7.5 years for dangerous driving causing death of Ciaran Treacy (4)

Published 03/11/2015 | 09:32

Gillian and Ronan Treacy leaving Portlaoise circuit court this morning
A family picture of Ciaran Treacy
Finbarr O'Rourke leaving Portlaoise circuit court this morning.
Gillian Treacy was returning home to Portarlington with her son Ciaran (4)
Four-year-old Ciaran Treacy died following a car crash
Gillian Treacy was left in a wheelchair after the crash that killed her son, Ciaran

There were emotional scenes as travelling salesman Finbarr O' Rourke was jailed for seven years and six months for dangerous driving causing the death of four year old Ciaran Treacy.

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He was also banned from driving for 20 years.

O'Rourke made no response as Judge Keenan Johnson handed down the sentence at Portlaoise Circuit Court.

The judge himself became emotional and had to pause at one point during the sentencing as he described how in the blink of an eye, the "Treacy's beautiful family was shattered."

Gillian Treacy's account of a happy day spent with her sons and her own parents followed by a shopping trip was hard to reconcile with the "calamitous events" that had then transpired, said the judge.

He said the mother's victim impact statement was "one of the most powerful, harrowing, vivid and upsetting" he had ever read.

He said it was a "wake up call" for anyone who thought it was still acceptable to drink and drive.

"This victim impact statement has done good service in focusing the minds of people and has kickstarted a debate," he commented.

Four-year-old Ciaran Treacy died following a car crash
Four-year-old Ciaran Treacy died following a car crash

And he said it was a fitting tribute to little Ciaran.

Meanwhile O'Rourke was described in court as a kind, big-hearted individual who had raised money for Barnardos.

Gillian Treacy was left in a wheelchair after the crash that killed her son, Ciaran
Gillian Treacy was left in a wheelchair after the crash that killed her son, Ciaran

In the run up to the accident, he had been informed that he was to be made redundant from his job and had suffered a marriage break up as well as having concerns about his mortgage.

The judge said he was a decent human being who had made a bad decision that night.

A family picture of Ciaran Treacy
A family picture of Ciaran Treacy

He pointed out that he is a son, a father and deserved to be treated with dignity and respect.

The guilt of what happened is a life sentence, he said.

Gillian Treacy was returning home to Portarlington with her son Ciaran (4)
Gillian Treacy was returning home to Portarlington with her son Ciaran (4)

Previously, Mrs Treacy said some nights were so unbearable for her and husband Ronan, that "I just wanted to die".

"My injuries were two fractured ankles, a compound fracture to my left leg, a fractured pelvis and hip, a fractured elbow and sternum. But the worst injury was the pain which came from my broken heart," she said in a powerful victim impact statement read by a barrister in Portlaoise Circuit Court.

Gillian and Ronan Treacy leaving Portlaoise circuit court this morning
Gillian and Ronan Treacy leaving Portlaoise circuit court this morning

"We thank God for four precious years with him but grieve for the life he was denied by the actions of Finbarr O'Rourke, a drink driver who shattered and devastated our family."

O'Rourke, (40) of Laurel Drive in Portlaoise, was arrested as he walked from the scene at Ballymorris, Portlaoise, on April 17, 2014.

The court heard he had earlier visited several pubs in Portarlington with a friend where each drank eight or 10 pints before there was a disagreement and O'Rourke decided to leave in his car.

Finbarr O'Rourke leaving Portlaoise circuit court this morning.
Finbarr O'Rourke leaving Portlaoise circuit court this morning.

Previously, the separated father of two took to the stand to apologise.

"I would give my life, I never went out to hurt anybody that day," he said. "I just didn't think, I just jumped into the car."

Read more: Brendan O'Connor: The moment when little Ciaran Treacy (4) stopped crying

The court heard this morning that Mr O'Rourke was seven times over the legal limit for a professional driver - as he was a travelling salesman for Cadburys at the time.

Speaking afterwards, Gillian Treacy said their sentencing began the day of the crash.

She described her son as "a beautiful child, the light of their lives" and said he was the "energy in our home."

Asked where the strength to carry on came from, she simply replied:"From Ciaran."

The family feel that he is still with them and the two younger children, Sean and Caoimhe still ask when their brother is coming back. They have to live their lives without Ciaran, which is a heartbreak for them all, she said.

She hoped his legacy would be to deter anyone from ever, ever drink driving.

Asked how her health was, Mrs Treacy said she was coping. She would require further surgery and may lose the lower part of her leg.

However Gillian said: " I would have taken these injuries, no problem, if it meant Ciaran could have survived and if the two boys could have been ok.

"But nothing was ever so bad as losing Ciaran," she said.

During a previous court appearance, Mrs Treacy and her husband Ronan said they had gone through hell and back since little Ciaran Treacy died.

At the hearing, barrister Will Fennelly read a powerful and emotional victim impact statement on behalf of Ciaran's parents.

Judge Keenan Johnson said it should be compulsory reading for anyone thinking of drink driving.

The couple wrote: "We will always wonder how life would have been.

"He never got the chance to start school, make his Communion, Confirmation, go to college, get married or have children.

"These are the things that will break our hearts even more, knowing he did not get to live his life, a life that was so brutally taken through the drunken actions of Finbarr O'Rourke.

"This I will never forgive Finbarr O'Rourke for."

The head-on collision occurred as Mrs Treacy was returning home to Portarlington with Ciaran and his seven-year-old brother Sean, after spending a day with their grandparents in Stradbally, Co Laois.

She told gardaí the driver "appeared to be slumped over the wheel" just prior to the collision.

"The collision happened within seconds, leaving me crushed and trapped in our car, unable to get my boys out of the car, having to wait, which felt like an eternity, for some passers-by to help," Mrs Treacy wrote. "While we waited for help to arrive, the panic, shock and pain was unbearable.

"I fought for my life thinking the car was going to burst up in flames at any moment, while trying to comfort both Sean and Ciaran.

"They were crying and screaming with shock and pain.

"All of a sudden Ciaran became silent. It was a silence I had never experienced before and as a mother I knew was not right."

It took an hour for firefighters to cut Mrs Treacy from the car while Sean was being comforted nearby and Ciaran resuscitated. "The last sighting I had of Ciaran was him being carried to the side of the road, with the evening sun beaming through his blonde hair," she said.

"The next time I saw my little boy, was on a stretcher - Dead."

The boys were taken to Portlaoise Hospital, while she was taken to Tullamore Hospital where she constantly asked medical staff about her children.

"But I was so critical they could not tell me about Ciaran's death," she said.

Mrs Treacy underwent the first of 10 surgeries in the early hours of Friday, April 18, and when she awoke, was being supported by a ventilator.

"The only way I could communicate was to make the letter 'C' with my finger on the sheet. It was then that Ronan confirmed what I already knew in my heart that Ciaran didn't make it," she said.

"My whole life was shattered and my heart was broken when my worst nightmare had been confirmed."

Her son's body was brought to her and she spent the night "talking to him and making the most of our final hours together".

"I spoke to God about Ciaran's favourite toys, food, colour and all the things that made him unique," she added.

She later attended his funeral by ambulance with the aid of two paramedics and an ICU nurse. "It was a day that no parent should have to endure, seeing their child's coffin, their families devastated with grief and sadness," she added.

Mrs Treacy spent five 'long weeks' in hospital, away from her heartbroken husband and vulnerable children, Sean and her daughter Caoimhe.

"We have gone through hell and back since Ciaran's death," she continued. "Torn, between being parents, while we ache for our son.

"Keeping a face for Sean and Caoimhe and as the day goes on we find ourselves smothering with grief and devastation.

"Some of my darkest moments have been at night when the children slept, trying to come to terms with everything, from the trauma of the crash, the nightmares, the feeling of being on fire and the screams of my children and being unable to be a mother to them.

"On nights that it was unbearable, I just wanted to die, Ronan would hold me while we both cried and ached for Ciaran."

Mrs Treacy said she spent months torturing herself, looking for reasons that would have made the outcome different.

"If I had gone home earlier or later, taken another road, but through counselling I now know that this was not my fault," she said.

"I was a mother taking her two children home to her husband and their father and our daughter to get ready for Easter.

"We lived our lives for our children. Everything we did was for them and our needs came last, but we were happy with that because they were our world."

She said that during all this time, her husband had to care for her while she was in a wheelchair, learning how to walk again. He cared for their children and they lost their business because of the financial strain of hiring extra staff to cover both jobs.

"Physically, every day is a struggle. I have days when I cannot function with pain," she added.

"My left leg requires more surgery and if this surgery does not work I could face a lower leg amputation. Even though losing my leg will never be as bad as losing Ciaran.

"Family life will never be the same without Ciaran. We speak his name and try so very hard to include him in everything we do. We try to keep his memory alive with the children and they both speak of him as if he has just gone away and will come back. Children do not understand that death is permanent and over time they will have to come to the realisation that their brother will not be coming back."

The following is the statement in full on behalf of Ronan and Gillian Treacy as read out by Barrister Will Fennelly at Portlaoise Circuit Court:

On Thursday April 17th 2014, Both Sean & Ciaran spent day with their grandparents, a perfect day that ended in tragedy.

On our way home, we were involved in a head on collision with Finbar O’Rourke. The collision happened within seconds, leaving me crushed and trapped in our car, unable to get my boys out of the car having to wait which felt like an eternity for some passerby’s to help. While we waited for help to arrive, the panic, shock & pain was unbearable. I fought for my life thinking the car was going to burst up in flames at any moment, while trying to comfort both Sean & Ciaran. They were crying and screaming with shock and pain.

All of a sudden Ciaran became silent. It was a silence I had never experienced before and as a mother I knew was not right. I then feared the worst for Ciaran. I knew he had been badly injured or the unthinkable – Dead. Sean remained crying while I tried to calm him and get him to get himself and his brother out of the car, fearing that the car go on fire at any moment. Thankfully as people came on the scene we were finally getting help & they phoned for the emergency services. Sean was first to be taken from the car, then Ciaran. Shortly after this somebody phoned my husband and held the phone to my ear where I told him what happened and to come quick. 

The last sighting I had of Ciaran was him being carried to the side of the road, with the evening sun beaming through his blonde hair. The next time I saw my little boy, was on a stretcher –Dead. Soon afterwards my husband Ronan also arrived at the scene with our other child Caoimhe. We both had to look on at our two sons on the side of the road, Sean being comforted while Ciaran was being resuscitated. The look of horror and disbelief on his face told me that our lives were falling apart.  After an hour of the firemen cutting me from the car, all this time I was watching the panic and fear etched on their faces while they tried to free me from the car and as they worked on me and both my boys.

Sean & Ciaran were taken to Portlaoise hospital, while I was taken to Tullamore Hospital. I constantly asked the medical staffs, was there any update on Sean & Ciaran, but I was so critical they could not tell me about Ciaran’s death. I was brought to theatre for my first of ten surgeries in the early hours of Friday April 18th. Hours later I woke up but was being supported by a ventilator. Ronan & his brother Fergus arrived shortly after I woke, unable to speak because of tubes down my throat, the only way I could communicate was to make the letter ‘C’ with my finger on the sheet. It was then that Ronan confirmed what I already knew in my heart that Ciaran didn’t make it. My whole life was shattered & my heart was broken when my worst nightmare had been confirmed.

Early Saturday Ciaran was brought to me on a stretcher. I tried to hold him on my best side with total disbelief, none of this made any sense. I spent that night with Ciaran, talking to him and making the most of our final hours together. I spoke to God about Ciaran’s favourite toys, food, colour and all the things that made him unique.

My injuries were two fractured ankles, a compound fracture to my left leg, a fractured pelvis & hip, a fractured elbow and sternum, but the worst injury was the pain which came from my broken heart. Ciaran was taken from me on Sunday morning to be waked in our home. That was the last time I saw our little boy. I attended Ciaran’s funeral by ambulance, on a trolley with the aid of two paramedics and an ICU nurse. It was a day that no parent should have to endure, seeing their child’s coffin, their families devastated with grief and sadness.

The days after the funeral, I wanted answers as to what happened. I could remember the car coming towards us at speed, the colour of the car, the make of the car and part of the registration.  Over the next few days the devastating news filtered through that the other driver was drunk.

When it all was put together, I had been driving home with Sean & Ciaran when a drunk driver collided with our car.

Five long weeks, ten surgeries later, I returned home. It was only then that we as a family could be together and grieve for Ciaran. I missed all this time away from Sean & Caoimhe while their little minds were trying to come to terms with what happened. Five weeks is a long time to be separated from two very vulnerable children and a heart broken husband. Again this I will never forgive Finbar O’Rourke for.

Since then we have struggled every minute of every day trying to be parents to Sean and Caoimhe. To be able to support each other while we are paralyzed with grief and in the depths of despair.

Several milestones have taken place since. Ciaran’s months mind mass took place on Ronan’s 40th birthday, instead of celebrating we were going through a repeat of Ciaran’s funeral. Before the collision, Halloween was a very exciting time in our house, but we had to get through it for our other children.  Christmas which should be a time of happiness and joy was filled with despair and heart wrenching moments without Ciaran. Then came the New Year, Ciaran’s Birthday January 3rd. His 5th Birthday celebrated for him but without him, surrounded by our families, heartbroken watching Sean & Caoimhe blow out his candles. Then Easter we relived every minute of the time coming up to the collision. On April 17th, It was Ciaran’s anniversary, after this day we could no longer say ‘’This Time Last Year’’.

We have gone through hell and back since Ciaran’s death. Torn, between being parents, while we ache for our son. Keeping a face for Sean & Caoimhe and as the day goes on we find ourselves smothering with grief and devastation.  Some of my darkest moments have been at night when the children slept, trying to come to terms with everything, from the trauma of the crash, the nightmares, the feeling of been on fire and the screams of my children and being unable to be a mother to them.

On nights that it was unbearable, I just wanted to die, Ronan would hold me while we both cried and ached for Ciaran. We have had to watch our parents, brothers and sister, nieces & nephews and extended family and friends of Ciaran go through this nightmare, the complete devastation of Ciaran’s loss. I have spent months torturing myself looking for reasons that would have made the outcome different. 

If I had gone home earlier or later, taken another road, but through counselling I now know that this was not my fault. I was a mother taking her two children home to her husband and their father and our daughter to get ready for Easter. We lived our lives for our children. Everything we did was for them and our needs came last, but we were happy with that because they were our world.

Ronan all this time had to care for me while I was non weight bearing in a wheelchair, while I had to learn how to walk again. He had to care for Sean and Caoimhe and tried to keep our business afloat. Since the collision we have lost our business because of the financial strain of hiring extra staff to cover both myself and Ronan’s jobs. I am a trained Beauty Therapist and had my own salon for ten years. I took a career break from my business to be a stay at home mother while trying to work evenings in Ronan’s shop.

Due to financial pressure we have had to put the premises where I operated the salon from up for sale. My plan was to return to my career when Caoimhe started school but now I cannot due to my disabilities from my injuries. While Ronan tried to run the business, we had to travel to Portlaoise to bank with AIB as the Portarlington branch had closed.

Physically everyday is a struggle. I have days when I cannot function with pain. My left leg requires more surgery and if this surgery does not work I could face a lower leg amputation. Even though losing my leg, will never be as bad as losing Ciaran. Family life will never be the same without Ciaran. We speak his name and try so very hard to include him in everything we do. We try to keep his memory alive with the children and they both speak of him as if he has just gone away and will come back.

Children do not understand that death is permanent and over time they will have to come to the realisation that their brother will not be coming back. We as parents comfort them when they ask where Ciaran is we tell them he lives in heaven but he still is also in their hearts. We as parents, Sean, Caoimhe, our parents and extended family will never be able to come to terms with Ciaran’s loss.

We will always wonder how life would have been. He never got the chance to start school, make his Communion, Confirmation, go to college, get married or have children. These are the things that will break our hearts even more knowing he did not get to live his life, a life that was so brutally taken through the drunken actions of Finbar O’Rourke. Again this I will never forgive Finbar O’Rourke for.

What keep us alive are Sean and Caoimhe. They need us and it is our goal to be good parents to them and they deserve nothing less. They have suffered enough and will suffer more missing Ciaran in their lives. We carry on knowing we have an angel in heaven watching over us. The only glue that keeps our hearts together is Sean and Caoimhe.

We all will miss Ciaran everyday of the remainder of our lives. We thank God for four precious years with him but grieve for the life he was denied by the actions of Finbar O’Rourke, a drunk driver who shattered and devastated our family.

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