Saturday 3 December 2016

Student (21) given three year suspended sentence for dangerous driving over tragic crash that killed mum and daughter

Published 21/11/2016 | 15:03

Geraldine and Louise Ann Clancy and Susan Gleeson (right)
Geraldine and Louise Ann Clancy and Susan Gleeson (right)

A student was given a suspended three year prison sentence for dangerous driving causing the death of a mother and daughter last Christmas.

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Susan Gleeson (21) wept as Cork Circuit Criminal Court heard that Geraldine (58) and Louise (22) Clancy both drowned after their car, having been struck by Ms Gleeson's vehicle, overturned into a flooded ditch where the mother and daughter were trapped.

Both were trapped in their vehicle as it wedged upside down in the ditch which was flooded with 0.8 metre of water from the River Blackwater on December 22 2015.

Ms Gleeson had failed to yield at a blind junction on the R666 in north Cork and, in attempting to take the turn, lost control of her car and struck Mrs Clancy's car as it was passing.

The doors of the Clancy's Ford were wedged tightly closed after it landed upside down in the flooded ditch.

Another motorist, off-duty Defence Forces soldier, Sean O'Grady, attempted to prise open the doors to save the two women who could be heard screaming inside the flooding Ford car.

He opened the passenger's door sufficient to get his arm inside - and felt his hand being squeezed by Louise Clancy.

"He held her arm," Sgt John McNamara said.

"She (Louise) squeezed his hand for a short time and then become lifeless."

Sgt McNamara said Ms Gleeson immediately told Gardai at the scene she misjudged the junction.

Ms Gleeson wept as she told the court she never intended to hurt anyone last Christmas when she took the blind junction in third gear and failed to stop.

The University of Limerick student was on her way to a dental appointment and was driving unaccompanied on a Provisional License.

She had completed nine of her 12 driving lessons.

The student admitted to Gardai her full concentration was not on the road though excessive speed, alcohol and mobile phone usage were not factors in the tragedy.

"I want to apologise to Noel, Fiona and Declan Clancy for the loss of Geraldine and Louise," she sobbed.

"I never wanted for any of this to happen."

"There isn't a day that I don't think about it and the heartache I have caused them."

"There are no words to say how sorry I am."

Moving victim impact statements were delivered by Noel Clancy, who lost his wife and daughter in the tragedy, as well as by his son, Declan, and daughter, Fiona.

"I was married to Geraldine for 10,705 days and I would be happy to trade a lot of those days just for a chance to say goodbye," he said.

Mr Clancy said last Christmas instead of hosting a family festive gathering he found himself organising two funerals.

At Ronayne's Funeral Home in Fermoy, he said he wept as he knelt between the coffins of his wife and daughter.

"I kissed her (Geraldine's) lips - (they were) stone cold. I thanked her for our life together and I asked her to look after Louise. As if I needed to ask."

Mr Clancy said Geraldine was a wonderful wife and mother who had devoted her life to her children.

He said the dangerous driving of the defendant had robbed him of a daughter who was determined to defy her autism to become a journalist and a mother of three who was his girlfriend, wife, best friend, lover and business partner for almost 30 years.

"Louise loved Bob Dylan. We played 'Blowing in the Wind' at the funeral for her. How many deaths will it take to tell people that too many people are dying on our roads?"

"The answer is Blowing in the Wind," he said.

"Most people wake from a nightmare in the morning."

"But I wake every day from a nightmare - a real nightmare. The pain is there all the time."

"If I lost my past with Geraldine, I also lost the future with Louise."

He said his devastation is such that he can no longer continue in dairy farming, a profession he had loved all his life.

"That day was the worst day in the history of the world from my point of view."

"People tell me there is a road ahead. But I cannot see it."

"People tell me the sun will shine again. But I don't believe it."

"My wife and my daughter were lying in body bags on that cold, hard road - God almighty."

"Any sentence this court will impose will pale into insignificance compared to the life sentence my family was handed."

Ms Gleeson had pleaded guilty before Cork Circuit Criminal Court to dangerous driving causing the death of Geraldine Clancy (58) and her daughter, Louise Ann (22), on December 22 last.

The accident happened less than 1km from the Clancy's family farm.

Ms Gleeson is a neighbour of the Clancy family.

Tragically, one of the first to arrive on the scene in a bid to help shortly after 11am that day was Noel Clancy.

He initially didn't recognise the overturned Ford as their family car - and was shocked minutes later to discover his wife and daughter had both died.

Judge Sean O'Donnabhain said it was "an horrific" case with shocking consequences for the Clancy family.

He said the victim impact statements were amongst the most moving ever delivered in court.

But he said aggravating factors such as excessive speed, alcohol, use of a mobile phone and a defective vehicle were not involved.

Ms Gleeson was from a good family and had no previous convictions of any kind.

"What I have to do is a difficult balancing act between the needs of the community in dealing with a case of this severity and a public recognition of the harm that was done," he said.

He imposed a three year suspended prison sentence on Ms Gleeson.

However, he said such was the nature of the dangerous driving he felt a lengthy driving disqualification was required and he banned her from driving for 15 years.

Judge O'Donnabhain said the four year statutory driving disqualification was "totally inadequate" in the circumstances.

A Cork Coroner’s inquest last April heard that the mother and daughter both drowned after their car ploughed into a flooded ditch seconds after being struck by Ms Gleeson's car.

The accident occurred near Ballyderown on the Fermoy-Kilworth-Ballyduff Road.

Assistant State Pathologist Dr Margaret Bolster conducted post mortem examinations on both at Cork University Hospital (CUH) on December 23.

Dr Bolster confirmed that both died from acute cardio-respiratory failure due to drowning.

 Heavy rainfall and flooding of the River Blackwater had left the dyke beside the Kilworth-Fermoy road full of water to a depth of almost 120cm (4ft) last winter.

 Local fields were also heavily flooded.

 Louise Ann, who had autism, had successfully defied her condition to study first at Loreto secondary school in Fermoy and then at University College Cork (UCC).

 She had only arrived home days before the tragedy from her Erasmus Scholarship placement at the University of Sussex in the UK to spend Christmas with her family.

 Louise Ann was a prolific writer and published numerous blogs on living and working with autism.

 Special tributes were paid to Louise Ann earlier this year to mark World Autism Awareness Day.

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