Tuesday 26 September 2017

Hit-and-run driver 'wants to be jailed for killings'

Breda Heffernan, Nick Pisa and  Velentina Dello Russo

THE driver who mowed down two Irish tourists in Rome, killing them instantly, has told his father that he wants to go to jail.

Friedrich Vernarelli has claimed to have no memory of ploughing into friends Elizabeth Gubbins (27) and Mary Collins (28) as they returned to their hotel from a night out celebrating St Patrick's Day.

The 32-year-old motorist was found to be four-and-a-half times over the Italian drink-drive limit when he hit the friends as they used a pedestrian crossing at the Castle Sant'Angelo, close to the Vatican in the early hours of Tuesday morning.

Risk

A judge will decide today if he will be remanded on continuing bail or taken into custody. Roman prosecutors have lodged a formal request asking that he be taken into custody because of an alleged risk of him re-offending.

Last night his father, Robert Vernarelli, a former police chief, said: "We spoke at length about the prosecutor's request and he said to me, 'Dad, I want to go to jail'. I am proud of this decision my son has made.

"I told him to take courage and face his responsibilities. I told him he couldn't run away and not to use a lawyer to reduce his guilt. In a world where everyone tried to run away, he will pay for what he has done and serve his sentence," he said.

Mr Vernarelli added that he had sent a telegram to the Irish Embassy in Rome, in which he expressed his sorrow and apologised for his son's actions. He has asked the women's families for forgiveness and said there were three families in mourning as a result of his son's serious mistake.

The women's families are due to travel to Rome from their homes in counties Limerick and Kildare today.

The 32-year-old guesthouse owner has been charged with manslaughter and failing to give assistance at the scene of an accident. However, it is expected that he will face further charges.

His lawyer said he spent most of Tuesday with Mr Vernarelli and his family trying to piece together what had happened.

Remember

"My client, Mr Vernarelli, does not remember anything about the accident. He does not remember what witnesses have said happened," he added.

Meanwhile, an American tourist who witnessed the incident and tried to help the two women has said that there was another man in the car with Mr Vernarelli and that he ran from the scene.

Tourist Manuel Riuz, a 24-year-old from California who witnessed the incident and attempted to help the two Irish women, said the awful images of that night have been burned into this mind. "I keep thinking about what happened, I can't say that the Italian police did a very good job. There was a second person in the car, near the driver. He got up after the accident and ran off on foot."

Ms Gubbins and Ms Collins were both dragged around 90ft along the road by the car. Witnesses claimed the Mercedes car was speeding at the time of the collision and that it only came to a stop after hitting a number of parked cars and bins further down the street.

The women were part of a group of four friends who had met while studying in UCD and who had arrived in the Italian capital on Friday for a short break. They were due to return home later on Tuesday.

Their two friends had gone back to the hotel earlier that night.

They later identified their friends' bodies to local police.

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