Sunday 23 July 2017

Emotional scenes as man found not guilty of dangerous driving causing death of his girlfriend

Kym Harley who died in a crash in Co Donegal.
Kym Harley who died in a crash in Co Donegal.

Greg Harkin

There were emotional scenes this evening when a man accused of killing his girlfriend in a road traffic incident was found not guilty of causing her death by dangerous driving at the direction of the judge.

Gary O’Donnell, (22), had pleaded not guilty to causing the death of Kym Harley, (19) in a single vehicle crash close to her home at Drennan, Ballybofey, Co Donegal in October 2014.

Mr O’Donnell, from Steeple View, Dunwiley, Stranorlar, told gardaí in an interview that he had swerved to avoid a collision with two dogs, a black labrador and a beagle.

He also admitted he may have been going faster than the speed limit but didn’t believe it was “serious speed”.

Letterkenny Circuit Criminal Court heard the Nissan Almera struck a ditch and ended up on its roof. Kym, who had turned 19 days earlier, died at the scene.

The court had heard a claim by Mr O'Donnell that the couple had split up after an 18-month relationship but had got back together on the evening before the 4.15am crash on October 14 that year.

In his evidence to the jury today garda forensic collision expert Sgt John McFadden said speed had been the cause of the crash.

He ruled out weather, the condition of the road and the condition of the vehicle as contributory factors in the incident which took place in a rural residential area in a 50km/hr speed limit zone.

Sgt McFadden said he conducted six tests on the estimated speed of the Nissan as it went around a bend before the crash.

The lowest estimated speed of the vehicle from those tests was 94.3km/hr.

The sergeant also said he also drove the route in test conditions and concluded the ‘critical’ speed at which the bend could be driven was 78km/hr.

“I wouldn’t have pushed it any further than that,” said Sgt McFadden.

The witness said tyre marks showed the back right hand side of the vehicle began to spin around anti-clockwise as Mr O’Donnell began to lose control of the car.

Further on, he said, Mr O’Donnell had “completely lost control”.

Marks left on the road from the tyres had shown this, he said.

Under cross-examination from Jonathan Kilfeather, SC, Sgt McFadden said Mr O’Donnell was driving at “94.3km/hr or more” during the incident.

He said he used the lowest possible speed to give benefit to the driver.

“The vehicle was travelling too fast. He could not steer,” said Sgt McFadden.

The car swung around, hit a ditch and the vehicle flipped up and onto its roof.

The car left initial marks for 46.3m, he said, and Mr O’Donnell righted the car which then skidded into the ditch, leaving a second set of skid marks.

Mr Kilfeather said the suggestion that Mr O’Donnell recovered the vehicle in the following 7.5m before the wheels were locked in a braking action - without leaving any marks on the road - was ‘ridiculous’.

Dr Mark Jordan, a forensic collision expert called by the defence, said it was his view that the 46.3m long marks left on the road may not have been left by Mr O’Donnell’s car at all.

He said the gap of 7.5m between the first marks and the second set of road marks led him to conclude that it was “more than likely left by another vehicle”.

Dr Jordan said the fish-tail manoeuvre which the prosecution said took place would have left another set of marks on the road, but no marks were found.

However Patricia McLaughlin, prosecuting put it to Dr Jordan that Mr O’Donnell had admitted to gardaí at the scene that he had lost control of his car and it had slid sideways during the incident.

Dr Jordan accepted that the second set of straight tyre marks which he believed Mr O’Donnell had made on the road were inconsistent with that admission, saying the marks would not have been straight.

Judge John O’Hagan accepted an application from Mr Kilfeather to withdraw the case from the jury on grounds of insufficient evidence.

He instructed the jury to return a ‘not guilty’ verdict.

Members of the Harley family, including her father Donegal Fine Gael county councillor Martin, were visibly upset at the back of the court.

As the case concluded, Kym's mother Denise approached Mr O'Donnell saying: "She was never getting back with you. You killed her."

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