Driver who killed two women a 'fantasist', says judge
Published 03/09/2010 | 05:00
AN Italian hit-and-run driver given seven years for killing two Irish holidaymakers has been labelled a "fantasist" in the trial judge's report.
Friedrich Vernarelli was sentenced after being found guilty of the deaths of Mary Collins and Elizabeth Gubbins, both 27, who were killed instantly after he hit them at speed on a zebra crossing.
The two friends suffered multiple injuries and died just hours before they were due to leave Rome and fly back home to Ireland after a St Patrick's Day break in March 2008.
Four months ago Vernarelli (34) was given a seven-year jail sentence and also ordered to pay €880,000 in compensation to the heartbroken families -- but under Italian law he is free until his final appeal.
Yesterday trial judge Anna Maria Pazienza released her sentencing report as is the practice under Italian law and hit out at Vernarelli for "snatching away two young lives".
Judge Pazienza added that he had bowled Mary and Elizabeth down "like skittles" when hitting them at high speed after a drunken night out and getting behind the wheel of his Mercedes A class.
Initially, Vernarelli confessed to being behind the wheel but after his trial started in September 2008, he claimed "two Hungarian friends had been driving" and he was innocent.
Judge Pazienza said: "This version of events by the defendant was decidedly fantasy. What he did was to get behind the wheel of his car drunk, drive at high speed through a red light, snatching away two young lives."
The court had given his defence team more than a year to track them down and they failed to do so -- putting the families of Elizabeth, from Lisnagry, Co Limerick, and Mary, from Athy, Co Kildare, through the anguish of giving evidence and delaying the trial.
The court in Rome heard that Vernarelli had been four times over the drink-drive limit and had hit the women at more than 60mph -- double the speed limit -- before racing away.
As he sped away he hit a rubbish bin and finally came to a stop half a mile away after crashing into another parked car where he was found in a confused state by police.
Flowers and tributes are still tied to the tree close to the Vatican, where Elizabeth and Mary were killed.
Yesterday, Paolo Carugo, the Gubbins family lawyer, said: "It's quite clear from the report that the judge had no time for the defence version and dismissed it as fantasy.
"Our case was strong and the trial judge quite clearly agreed with that giving Vernarelli seven years and ordering him to pay almost €1m compensation.
"It was very tough for both families and they flew to Rome for every hearing and the trial went on longer as time was given to the defence to find these Hungarians but unsurprisingly they never showed up," he added.
Vernarelli's appeal is expected to be heard in the autumn and a final verdict will come after the third appeal to the Italian Supreme Court which is unlikely to take place until the end of 2011 at the earliest.