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Saturday 23 August 2014

My son was killed by State, says mum of hit-and-run victim

MAEVE SHEEHAN

Published 02/03/2014 | 02:30

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Lucia and Jim O'Farrell hold a picture of their late son, Shane.  Picture: Damien Eagers
Lucia and Jim O'Farrell hold a picture of their late son, Shane. Picture: Damien Eagers

HE was a drug addict with more than 40 previous convictions and at large because of two suspended sentences imposed by courts on both sides of the Border.

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On August 2, 2011, he was stopped and searched by a drug squad detective, in a car that had no tax and was later found to be unroadworthy, but was waved on. One hour later on the outskirts of Carrickmacross, Co Monaghan, he mowed down Shane O'Farrell, a 23-year-old law graduate who was cycling home.

The Garda Siochana Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) has now launched an investigation into 26 complaints relating to how Zigimantas Gridziuska remained at liberty despite repeated encounters with the law.

Shane O'Farrell's family believe that the justice system has let them down.

"Our son was killed by the State," Shane's mother Lucia O'Farrell told the Sunday Independent this weekend.

Gridziuska already had 12 convictions in his native Lithuania for theft and other offences by the time he arrived in Ireland and settled in Carrickmacross.

In the eight months before his car ploughed into Shane O'Farrell, he had made numerous appearances in District Courts in Monaghan, Louth and Cavan. In November 2010, he was in court in Ballyconnell, Co Cavan, for stealing a €100 socket set from a garage in Kingscourt.

In January 2011, he appealed a 12-month sentence for theft at Monaghan Circuit Court but was released on bail for a year. Over the next eight months, Gridziuska continued to be charged and summonsed for further offences, including theft and traffic offences.

Shane's family has complained that although Gridziuska continued to re-offend, his bail was not revoked.

In May of 2011, three months before Shane was killed, he got a four-month suspended sentence at Ardee District Court for theft. At that point, according to Shane's family, Gridziuska's liberty should have been revoked and he should have been brought back before Monaghan Circuit Court. Had this happened, Ms O'Farrell believes that her son would be alive today.

At 9.10pm on August 2, 2011, a drug squad garda flagged down Gridziuska's car on suspicion that the occupants were drug users. The garda later testified at Shane's inquest that Gridziuska was in the passenger seat. Two other men were in the car with him. He suspected the men may have been in possession of controlled drugs. He asked the occupants to get out of the car while he searched it.

He found nothing. He didn't test the drivers, but he said on speaking to them he found all of them sober and coherent. He waved the car on, with Gridziuska driving.

About one hour later, Shane O'Farrell was cycling home. It was the start of his summer holidays and he was in training for a triathlon.

He had just that day handed in his dissertation for his Masters Degree in Law at Trinity College Dublin and returned to the family home in Carrickmacross.

At Tollyvara Upper, close to his home, Gridziuska struck Shane from behind, sending him flying over the roof, the windscreen and the bonnet of the car. Shane died instantly. Gridziuska continued driving.

He later told gardai that he "panicked". He abandoned the car and walked home. His wife testified at Shane's inquest that he arrived home shaking and told her: "I knocked somebody down but I don't know whom."

They did not call an ambulance or the gardai.

Gridziuska pleaded guilty in March last year to failing to stop and failing to report an accident and leaving the scene of a fatal accident. He got an eight-month jail sentence that was suspended on condition that Gridziuska leave the country within three weeks.

The O'Farrell family have asked GSOC to investigate why Gridziuska's bail had not been revoked or his suspended sentence activated.

They claim that gardai never told the family when he was due in court on an insurance fraud, that suspended sentences were not activated and that information about his offences was not shared and that gardai did not object to him getting bail after the fatal hit and run.

Sunday Independent

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