Monday 21 May 2018

Dangerous driver who caused death of woman allowed attend son's Communion before five-year jail term begins

David Byrne (42), with an address in Sunnyhill, Castlemartin Lodge, Kilcullen, Co Kildare, arrives at the Dublin Circuit Criminal Court. Pic Collins Courts.
David Byrne (42), with an address in Sunnyhill, Castlemartin Lodge, Kilcullen, Co Kildare, arrives at the Dublin Circuit Criminal Court. Pic Collins Courts.

Aoife Nic Ardghail

A visually-impaired man who caused the death of a 70-year-old woman through dangerous driving has been allowed attend his son's First Holy Communion before he is jailed for five years.

Postman David Byrne (42) was convicted in March following a trial at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court of dangerous driving causing the death of Patricia Dunne.

The court has heard that Byrne has Type 2 Usher Syndrome which is a degenerative eye disorder resulting in peripheral vision loss.

Today Judge Patricia Ryan agreed to a request by Michael O'Higgins SC, defending, to allow Byrne attend his son's First Holy Communion.

Byrne, who has no previous convictions, took an undertaking in court promising to present himself at Mountjoy Prison on Monday morning to begin his five year jail term.

Byrne (42) of Sunnyhill, Castlemartin Lodge, Kilcullen, Co Kildare, had pleaded not guilty to dangerous driving causing the death of Mrs Dunne at Collins Avenue East, Killester in Dublin on October 16, 2015.

The father-of-two had also pleaded not guilty to dishonestly inducing the National Driving Licence Service (NDLS) to issue him with a driving licence on September 30, 2014.

He had further denied making a false or misleading statement while taking out insurance on September 16, 2015. He was found guilty by a jury of all three charges.

At the sentence hearing last week, Mrs Dunne's son read from his victim impact statement and said his family would never forgive Byrne.

John Dunne said Byrne had put them through two weeks of hell in court by not pleading guilty to the dangerous driving causing death charge. He said the family believe his mother's death was a factor in his father's death.

The trial heard that Mrs Dunne had been walking home pulling a shopping trolley around midday when she began to cross the road.

A van slowed to allow her to cross, but Byrne's car then hit her and she was “flung up in the air” before the vehicle came to a stop.

Garda Pamela Dunne told Fionnuala O'Sullivan BL, prosecuting, that Byrne went to the garda station the following day and gave consent to access his medical records. He told gardaí he couldn't recall being advised not to drive in 1997.

In passing sentence today, Judge Ryan extended her sympathies to the late Mrs Dunne's family, saying that it had been inappropriate to do so before now.

She noted the aggravating factors in the case were that Byrne was driving a vehicle while suffering from his condition and he knew it was wrong.

She said the mitigating factors were Byrne's co-operation, previous good record, remorse, his good standing in the community and the testimonials handed in on his behalf.

She also noted that Byrne had an excellent employment record, that a custodial sentence would cause hardship to him and his family and that Mrs Dunne's death had affected him psychologically.

The judge acknowledged that a doctor's report described Byrne as a psychologically vulnerable man who has been unable to accept his disability for most of his life.

She highlighted that the maximum penalty for the dangerous driving causing death charge is ten years and that she put the headline sentence in this case at eight years.

Judge Ryan said she was reducing this headline figure to five years due to the mitigating circumstances that she outlined. She ordered that Byrne receive appropriate treatment in prison for his medical condition.

Evidence

Reading from his victim impact statement last week, John Dunne stated that Byrne should not have been driving and that there was no remorse and no apology for the death of his mother.

Mr Dunne described his mother as kind, compassionate, loving and very popular.

He said she had been in good form after returning from a holiday in Spain the day before she was killed.

He added that the family never recovered from the shocking way that they lost her and that his father, Mrs Dunne's husband of 52 years, never talked about it and “died a broken man”.

“We will never forgive (Byrne) for killing our mum,” he said.

Mr O'Higgins asked the court to take into account that his client's offer to plead guilty to careless driving causing death was rejected by the Director of Public Prosecutions.

Counsel said his client wished to extend his apologies to the Dunne family.He said this might appear to be coming “at the eleventh hour”, but due to the nature of the case it would have been very difficult to extend an apology until the criminal litigation had done its course.

Gda Dunne said Byrne had claimed he had no condition affecting his peripheral vision or his ability to drive when applying for his driving licence and insurance.

Mr O'Higgins told Judge Ryan that the prosecution did not bring evidence in the subsequent trial to show what progression Usher Syndrome had on his client's eyes since diagnosis in 1997.

Counsel submitted that this was the only accident in 20 years of Byrne driving with the disease.

He told Judge Ryan that his client was “overcome and crushed with remorse” for his actions on the day of the accident.

He said Byrne has been described as “psychologically fragile” and suffered taunting at school from wearing hearing aids.

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