Driver avoids jail for killing baby daughter and partner
Published 10/11/2010 | 05:00
A MAN whose dangerous driving resulted in the deaths of his teenage girlfriend and baby daughter fought back tears as he told a court how he wished he could take their place.
Christopher Hanlon (21), from Leitirmacaward, Co Donegal, pleaded guilty to dangerous driving causing the deaths of Kerry Ann Meehan (16) and his three-month-old daughter Niesha at Tullygay near Letterkenny on June 18, 2008.
At Letterkenny Circuit Court yesterday, Judge John O'Hagan sentenced Hanlon to two years' imprisonment but substituted it for 240 hours of community service. He also disqualified him from driving for eight years.
The couple were returning to their home in Doochary, Co Donegal, after visiting Ms Meehan's grandparents in Derry when the back tyre blew out, causing their car to spin across the road into the path of an oncoming jeep, narrowly missing two teenage pedestrians.
Ms Meehan died instantly in the impact which damaged the car beyond recognition. It took emergency services several minutes before the body of baby Niesha was discovered completely concealed under the front passenger seat.
Statements from eye-witnesses revealed the car appeared to be speeding before careering out of control across the road.
The driver of the jeep, who was transporting a trailer load of sheep, first noticed the two pedestrians, and then saw the car coming towards him, "fast and out of control".
He told gardai how he veered left and braked but could not avoid impact.
According to garda evidence, the car had been travelling at between 80kmh and 98kmh, which was excessive for the condition of the car. A PSV examination of the two-year-old Toyota Corolla later revealed that the two rear tyres showed signs of abnormal wear and tear, consistent with excessive use of the handbrake.
Evidence was heard that on the day of the crash Hanlon was performing handbrake turns with Ms Meehan and baby on board. A friend drew his attention to one of the tyres which was so badly worn the wire was penetrating the surface.
In a statement to gardai later, he admitted he was aware of the worn tyres and had intended replacing them that week.
Hanlon, who was seriously injured in the crash, said he had taken a chance and made a mistake, which he would regret for the rest of his life.
"If I could turn the clock back, I wish they were here and I would take their place. They put themselves in my hands and I made a mistake that I have to live with for the rest of my life," he said.
Ms Meehan's mother, Anna Meehan, broke down and appealed to the judge to hand out a custodial sentence because Hanlon had "behaved irresponsibly and recklessly" by driving with a bald tyre" on the night.
Judge O'Hagan said the driver was aware that his tyres were dodgy and had taken a chance. But he said that it was the only aggravating factor.
"These were kids. He expressed his remorse. He is going to have to live with the guilt for the rest of his life," he said.