Tractor driver found not guilty of careless driving causing death

Warning light on the roof of the tractor to attract the attention of other road users
Warning light on the roof of the tractor to attract the attention of other road users

Liam Cosgrove

A man has been found not guilty of careless driving causing the death of a teenager following a road traffic collision in Co Longford two and a half years ago.

A jury acquitted Jamie O'Reilly (26) Cartrongar, Drumlish, Co Longford of careless driving which resulted in the death of 18-year-old Joseph Reynolds, Garvary, Moyne, Co Longford at Cloonart South, Bornacoola on July 17 2016.

He was also cleared of careless driving causing serious bodily harm to David Gregg, Garrow Hill, Newtownforbes, Co Longford at the same date and location.

A jury of eight women and four men reached majority verdicts on both counts after deliberating for almost four hours following a five day trial at Longford Circuit Court.

Mr O'Reilly was, however, found guilty by a majority verdict of 10-2 of the lesser charge of careless driving.

The court had heard how Mr O'Reilly had been in the process of exiting a field onto the main N4 between Newtownforbes and Rooskey at 11:30pm after finishing mowing a field for a local farmer.

In doing so, Mr O'Reilly's Valtra tractor was involved in a collision with a black Toyota Starlet driven by Liam Doherty and which also contained three of his friends, including the late Mr Reynolds.

It is the prosecution's case Mr O'Reilly, a transport manager, drove without due care attention on the night in question given his knowledge that the tractor he was operating did not have an amber flashing beacon in place.

In closing arguments, counsel for the prosecution Shane Geraghty said Mr O'Reilly had not only breached the law but also failed in his duties as the operator of an agricultural vehicle to ensure that a flashing amber beacon was installed on the vehicle.

In quoting a report compiled by forensic collision investigator Garda John Creegan, Mr Geraghty noted how the lack of such a beacon was a 'major contributory factor' in the collision.

He also rejected claims Mr Doherty, the driver of the Toyota Starlet had been driving at 'ridiculous speeds' and was travelling at 95km/hr at the time and not at 120km/hr as claimed by Mr O'Reilly in his memorandum of interview.

In calling on the jury to find Mr O'Reilly guilty on both counts, Mr Geraghty said: "Had a flashing amber beacon been on the tractor, a different outcome would have occurred."

Defence Counsel John Shortt SC insisted the facts before the court amounted to a "simple case" in that the prosecution were pinning their evidence on the lack of a flashing amber beacon and not how Mr O'Reilly was exiting the field on the night.

He said he was also "appalled" at how the forensic collision report had overlooked the statements of both Mr O'Reilly and Mr
Doherty over the speed the latter's vehicle had been travelling at on the night.

He also queried why Mr Doherty was not re-interviewed given claims made by Mr O'Reilly that Mr Doherty had told him moments after the crash that he was doing 120km/hr at the time.

But, he said, the State's decision to put its case on the absence of a flashing beacon fell "very short" of the laws surrounding driving without due care and attention before the court.

In his charge to the jury, Judge Keenan Johnston said the tragic circumstances behind the events of July 17 2016 were a "prime example of bad things that happens to good people".

In outlining the legislative particulars associated to careless driving and the fact Mr O'Reilly was being solely accused of breaching that requirement due to the lack of a flashing beacon, he said: "Would a reasonably prudent driver taken a tractor out without a flashing beacon onto a public road in the hours of darkness?"

And, he said the jury must ask itself if that was a causative factor which gave rise to the accident which culminated in the death of Mr Reynolds and the serious injuries sustained by Mr Gregg.

He said the jury had three options before it-guilty on both counts, not guilty or the lesser charge of careless driving in its simplest form.

In thanking the jury and exempting them from service for a period of five years, Judge Johnston said the case in its entirety underlined the importance of a flashing amber beacon being on tractors before they are brought out onto public roads.

He said in what had been a "difficult trial" those involved were decent men but that cases of such a nature required all issues to be dealt with forensically and thoroughly to ensure justice is done.

He adjourned the case until today for mention ahead of the likely delivery a victim impact statement.

Online Editors