'I don't want to justify it. That would be an insult to the kids'
Mary Carberry's actions claimed the lives of two little girls and shattered very many others, writes Jerome Reilly
Last Tuesday, Mary Carberry, a chronic alcoholic from her teenage years, began a four-year sentence for dangerous driving that claimed the life of two beautiful little girls -- her own daughter Ava, who was just six years old, and Ava's little friend Michaela Logan, who was nine.
Less than 28 hours after she began her prison sentence, Mary Carberry was told that her older brother Gerard, who was 42, was dead.
He lost a three-week battle for life after suffering serious brain injury in a fire at his home on Strokestown Road in Longford.
Shortly before his sister's trial began, the life-support machine that had been keeping Gerard alive had been switched off and he died on Thursday.
Gerard, who was a father, was estranged from his wife for some time.
Gardai have launched an investigation into the blaze, which was spotted at 6.20am on September 21, to establish if the fire was started deliberately or was a tragic accident. A garda forensic team carried out a painstaking investigation.
It is understood that gardai are not seeking anyone else in connection with the blaze at this point.
When she stood, clutching a set of rosary beads, in front of Judge Desmond Hogan last week to answer three charges resulting from the car crash that claimed the lives of Ava and Michaela and injured her daughter Faith Carberry, eight, and Michaela's brother John Logan, four, Mary Carberry was already in custody at the Dochas Centre women's prison.
That was as a result of garda objections to her being granted bail after she appeared in court and was charged earlier in the summer with a Section 3 assault under the Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act, 1997.
That charge followed an incident in which a close female friend of Gerard Carberry received a stab injury to her hand.
When she was arraigned in Mullingar District Court in relation to the alleged assault, gardai noted that Mary Carberry was on a bond for good behaviour after a previous court appearance and objected to bail. She was remanded in custody.
This weekend Mary and Gerard Carberry's father and mother Tony and Lily are dealing with the devastating trauma of the death of their son and the jailing of their daughter Mary while at the same time the death of their grand- daughter Ava is still a fresh wound on their hearts.
They are a respected working class family. Tony was an urban district councillor in Longford for a number of years. They are devastated.
And they are not the only ones for whom the events of November 2007 will forever be etched on their souls.
Ava's father was the well- known Galway businessman Tommy Varden who, from scratch, built up one of the biggest catering equipment businesses in the country and whose name adorned the jerseys of the Galway senior football team for more than a decade. Ava is buried in a cemetery in Mr Varden's native Tuam.
At the time of the car accident which claimed the life of Ava, Mr Varden was not in a relationship with Mary Carberry. However, he was an attentive father to Ava. He had bought the black BMW 116i for Mary Carberry but the car had seldom left the driveway of her home at Ryebridge Avenue in Kilcock, Co Kildare, because, subsequent to the purchase of the sports hatchback, Mary Carberry had been banned from driving.
And little Michaela's mother is still grieving the death of her daughter. Michelle Logan, who was in the car at the time of the crash, declined to give a victim impact statement, and did not attend the sentencing hearing last week.
Michelle Logan said on Thursday: "I really don't know what to think of the court case. I think (the four-year sentence) was severe."
She added that she was heartbroken over the loss of her daughter, describing life without her as "very hard".
The life of Mary Carberry has been haunted. She fled school at 13 years of age and descended into the dark world of drink and drugs and seemingly endless troubles. But by her actions on a dark, misty night on November 26, 2007, she destroyed lives.
The devastating impact of alcohol abuse and feckless disregard for others was accurately summed up by Judge Desmond Hogan last week.
"No matter what sentence is applied it will not alleviate the pain, loss and hurt sustained by the parents of the two young girls and the injury sustained by Faith Carberry and John Logan.
"I am mindful that Mary Carberry, while standing before the court as a defendant is also a mother of Ava Carberry who lost her life as a result of her mother's driving and Faith Carberry who sustained injury," the judge said.
Accompanied by her mother and father, Mary Carberry heard the prosecution deliver the damning accusation she had been driving dangerously when she drove her car into an embankment outside Edgeworthstown resulting in the death of the two youngsters.
She had faced three charges: dangerous driving resulting in death and serious injury; failing to produce a specimen of blood or urine within the allocated time; and driving without the correct documentation.
Because Mary Carberry had entered a plea of guilty, the sole witness for the prosecution was Garda Eric Godfrey of Granard garda station who outlined the events on the night of the November 26, 2007.
He was among the first on the scene of the accident in the townland of Tynniard just moments outside Edgeworthstown.
"When I arrived I recorded that the road was wet, but it was not raining at the time. It was dark. I could see that the car was partially lodged on the embankment. It was facing in the Longford direction.
"There were two injured women beside the car and a child lying on the ground. The child was Michaela Logan -- she was wearing a cream top. There was another child prostrate on the ground in a school uniform."
The garda said that he spoke to Pauric Gacquin who had witnessed the crash. Mr Gacquin had been driving behind the BMW, driven by Mary Carberry.
In his witness statement read in court Mr Gacquin said that he saw the BMW pull out of The Park House Hotel in Edgeworthstown, then stop at the traffic lights, then "speed out" the road. The statement said that the car slowed down for a period, then weaved right to left before steadying. Mr Gacquin told gardai that he thought it was a "boy racer" showing off and, for safety reasons, he followed it at a distance.
Mr Gacquin stated that he could see no reason for the crash. He saw no brake lights and would have noticed them had brakes been applied. After the crash he was first on the scene and Mr Gacquin saw sparks flying from the car and removed the keys from the ignition to reduce the risk of fire.
Garda Godfrey said that an examination of the scene showed evidence of fast driving on the part of the defendant. He said he spoke to Ms Carberry and that there was a strong smell of alcohol from her breath and clothes. He said that she asked for a cigarette and appeared to be confused. He added that she returned to the car to retrieve her cigarettes.
Ms Carberry told a garda that her friend's (Ms Logan) name was Michelle, but that she did not know the surname. Mary said that Ms Logan was driving. Garda Godfrey cautioned Ms Carberry before speaking to Michelle Logan. Ms Logan said that Mary Carberry was driving.
The defendant and Ms Logan were then brought to Mullingar Hospital. At 11.20pm that night the medical staff at the hospital gave permission to request a sample of blood or urine from the defendant.
Garda Godfrey said that Ms Carberry was very agitated. At 11.45pm he requested a sample of blood or urine and explained the consequences of refusal. Ms Carberry replied: "I'm refusing both." The garda wrote this in his book and Ms Carberry signed it.
The following morning Mary Carberry made contact with the family liaison officer at Mullingar garda station, made an apology for refusing to provide a sample and gave a full statement.
That statement outlined the timetable of events that ended in tragedy in Longford and destroyed so many lives.
Mary Carberry said she went for a drink with her boyfriend Patrick Ward. They had two drinks before picking up Faith Carberry from school. They were drinking in a pub known as 'Davey's Bar' in Kilcock and stayed until five during which time she had five or six bottles of Heineken.
Michelle Logan returned with her to her home where they drank some more beer. At some point in the evening they decided to go to Longford. Ms Carberry had told gardai in her statement that the car they drove in had been bought for her by Tommy Varden, and as she had been banned from driving it was very seldom used.
Ms Carbery said that she suffered blackouts when she drank. She said that Michelle had driven some of the way and that she remembered asking her to stop the car and taking over behind the steering wheel. The statement said that the defendant did not remember going through the toll booth on the M4, M6 Kilcock, Kinnegad motorway.
The group of two women and four children stopped in Edgeworthstown where Mary Carberry had another drink. She spoke to the barman and asked to book a room. She was told there were none available. Ms Carberry said that she phoned a relative who lived in Drumlish who said she would accommodate her.
She put the children in the back of the car and drove off. Her statement to the gardai said: "All I remember is the thump. Then the flashing blue lights. I did not know what I hit. I remember Ava, I remember her face, I just don't know what happened. I don't remember arriving in the hospital."
Ms Carberry said that she lied about the fact that she was driving the car at the time of the accident because she did not want to be taken away from her children on the night of the accident: "I did not admit to driving because I was afraid he would take me off."
She said that she found out that the children were dead from Ava's father, Tommy Varden. "Tommy Varden told me he heard that two children were dead on the radio. I knew straight away that it was Ava."
Ms Carberry's statement concluded by saying: "I don't want to justify it -- that would be an insult to the two dead kids." The day after the crash Ms Carberry submitted a blood sample to gardai. However, owing to the interval between the crash and the sample being taken, the test did not register the presence of alcohol.
The Circuit Court was told that the two young girls died as a result of massive injuries due to shock and haemorrhage arising from a road traffic accident.
A list of the defendant's previous convictions was read into the court record. They included larceny, criminal damage and public order offences and two for drink driving, the last of which resulted in a six-year ban from driving. No victim impact statements were submitted to the court.
Mary Carberry was the subject of a report by a forensic psychologist which referred to her history of chronic alcohol and drug abuse. The psychologist stated that the defendant suffered no mental illness at the time of the incident or at the time of his analysis. He stated that she had a serious drugs record and had left school at 13 years of age.
Council for the Ms Carberry, Patrick Gageby, said that his client had registered the type of convictions one might expect from someone with an alcohol problem.
He called defence witness Dr Mel Gorman, a GP. Dr Gorman said that Ms Carberry had endeavoured to address her alcohol issues prior to November 26, 2007: "About two months before the incident she came to surgery and asked for an injection to prevent alcohol abuse. I said that I would look it up for her."
Dr Gorman said that over the years she had recognised that she had a problem. "Mary is in remorse, but has parked her bereavement," he said. "She is looking out for Faith. Over the years she has always been a great mother. She recognised the mistakes of her own childhood and was determined not to have her children make them."
Mr Gageby stated that the staff at Dochas had indicated that Ms Carberry would be a good candidate for rehabilitation and said: "It is difficult to see how someone who otherwise was a good mother could get over this. She still has to glare into the black hole as a result of this incident."
Mr Gageby pleaded with the judge to "temper the sentence you might pass" and he told the judge that his client's brother Gerard was expected to die after being taken off the life-support machine at Roscommon General Hospital.
Judge Hogan said there no winners in this case and that there were the aggravating factors that included that two young people had died and the twin element of speed and the consumption of a quantity of alcohol. He observed that Miss Carberry had made a full statement on the matter.
The judge acknowledged that although the defendant was an alcoholic, within that context she was presented as a good mother. He also said that some of Ms Carberry's previous convictions had to be viewed in light of the charges before the court.
Judge Hogan said: "A custodial sentence is warranted and must be imposed. Count one resulted in the death of two children and the serious bodily injury to two others. There is credit for the guilty pleas. However, a sentence of six years is appropriate. This is tempered by the fact that she is the mother of one of the children who died and she is endeavouring to deal with her troubles."
The judge suspended the last two years of the sentence and ordered that Ms Carberry be bound to keep the peace for a period of four years to come into effect upon release. "She will undergo a drug and alcohol programme under the auspices of the court probation service and is disqualified from driving for life," he said.
Before the sentence was handed down, Ms Carberry's statement had been read out in court. It spoke of the moments after the crash and how she saw her daughter lying dead.
"I remember seeing her face," she had said. "I knew she was dead. It wasn't a shock for me."