Paud O'Leary's widow: 'To kill a man and then get on a plane and look after yourself... It's cowardly behaviour'
'I'm trying to get my family through trauma. There are still sleepless nights in our home' - Margaret O'Leary
Published 28/04/2015 | 11:10
THE widow of a cyclist killed by a hit-and-run driver has said her young family are still going through trauma and enduring sleepless nights.
Margaret O'Leary's husband Paud (42) was killed shortly after 5am on July 1, 2012, about 1.2km from his home while on a training ride for the Ring of Kerry Charity Cycle.
Shane Fitzgerald (23) was last week sentenced to six and a half years in prison with the final 18 months suspended for dangerous driving causing Paud's death.
Fitzgerald, who left for the UK within 24 hours of the accident and had denied his involvement, was also disqualified from driving for 10 years.
Margaret said today that she had prayed that the driver would come forward as the family dealt with their grief.
"We thought at every moment, someone is going to come forward. I remember lighting a candle before my husband was buried and said 'please let this person come forward'," she told Newstalk's Pat Kenny show.
"He was just left there like a dog."
"It was difficult to tell [the children]. I just gathered them in the sitting room. The house was full, I needed a bit of privacy and I needed to tell them on my own."
"My daughter with Down syndrome is excellent at feeling a situation without it being told to her... her eyes were red and she said 'is Dad dead?', and I said 'yes'."
"The boys were very, very upset. They said 'why Mam, why didn't he stop?'… They cried and cried and cried, and I didn't cry, I said 'did I actually just tell my kids that their dad was found dead on the side of the road?'"
"To see the way my children cried I knew there was some kind of reality in the whole thing."
Margaret says there is "no excuse" for Fitzgerald's "cowardly behaviour". She said she had been hoping that the perpetrator would come forward when Paud was found so that two families could unite together in grief.
"It would have made an awful difference. That's what I wanted. That's why I lit my candle [to pray]."
"There is no excuse for that behaviour. To kill a man and get on a plane and look after yourself... It's cowardly behaviour to run away."
"He went to Australia and I do believe he was on Facebook and enjoying himself."
"This was the man in a big jeep who mowed down my husband coming from what I would call a night out."
Fitzgerald had pleaded not guilty during the trial but later admitted in his probation report he had caused the accident.
"For good measure he threw in a line about remorse"
"What was it all about? There was a man dead. Why didn't he tell the truth from the start... why did he put my family through this?"
"My husband is dead. My family is destroyed. I'm trying to get my family through trauma. There are still sleepless nights in our home."
Margaret described the sentence for Fitzgerald as "not fair" and she described the law surrounding hit-and-run accidents as "quite loose".
"It just doesn’t seem fair... To get five years at the end of it, it just doesn't add up."
Mrs O'Leary said her son Ross was only seven, Paud was nine, Antoinette was almost 12 and Shannon was just 14 when the accident happened.
Antoinette, who has Down Syndrome, turned 12 on July 4, on the day her father was laid to rest.
Her birth inspired Paud to complete the Ring of Kerry Cycle for the past 10 consecutive years before his death for Down Syndrome and to honour his daughter and all children born with a disability.
"He was very involved... he had a soft spot for people with disabilities... he loved personalities and that kind of innocence about them."
Today Margaret described how she got the call from Paud's sister to say that she, her husband, and their son had found Paud on the side of the road.
"Around 1pm I got the news on the 1st of July that he was found dead by his sister and her husband and his son."
"When it's family members that finds one of their own it's quite horrific."
"It was very difficult, the guards were on immediately, and the scene was cordoned off and it was very professional."
In her victim impact statement read out at the Circuit Criminal Court in Tralee last week, Margaret said she would never forget the cries of her four children when she told them their dad was dead.
In a harrowing statement, described by Judge Thomas E O'Donnell as one of the "most powerful" he had heard, she said: "They all depended on him so much as he was the head of the family and the authority figure in their home.