Driver cleared over crash that killed her four friends
A young motorist whose four friends were killed in a tragic road crash wiped away tears as she was found not guilty of dangerous driving, causing their deaths.
Dayna Kearney (23) was also acquitted of driving a dangerously defective vehicle at the time of the accident in Co Kildare in 2015.
Ms Kearney wept as a jury delivered unanimous verdicts, after just 27 minutes of deliberations.
Some of the crash victims' loved ones, who had been in court for the three-day trial, also cried as the verdicts were read out.
Judge Eoin Garavan paid tribute to the deceased and said Ms Kearney would have to live with the consequences of the accident throughout her life.
Minutes later, Ms Kearney hugged family members and walked free from Naas courthouse.
Outside, her solicitor Frank Taaffe said her reaction to the acquittal was one of "relief tinged with great sadness" at the loss of her friends.
Ms Kearney, a student from Crossneen, Co Carlow, who was herself seriously injured in the crash, had denied both charges in a trial at Kildare Circuit Court.
Her passengers Gemma Nolan (19), Chermaine Carroll (20) and Niamh Doyle (19), from Carlow, and Aisling Middleton (19), from Athy, Co Kildare, were all killed "almost instantly" in the collision on the N78 at Burtown, near Athy, on January 6, 2015.
The five were returning from an ice-skating outing in Kilkenny when the VW Polo Ms Kearney was driving veered across the road and crashed passenger side-on into an oncoming VW Transporter van.
It had been the prosecution's case that although her car was in sound mechanical condition, two tyres were not fully inflated and this along with the heavy load in the car caused it to swerve out of control.
There was evidence a tyre had gone flat from a slow puncture shortly before the crash and the defence maintained Ms Kearney could not have known about it, or corrected the car once it went out of control.
The jury retired at 2.39pm yesterday and returned at 3.06pm. Ms Kearney wiped tears away with a tissue as the verdicts were read out.
Judge Garavan said it had been an "emotionally difficult trial".
Four young people in the prime of their lives, to lose their lives was "tragedy upon tragedy".
There was a "lesson for all of us" that even on a good road, something "quite small" like tyre inflation could cause "such devastation", he said.
"(Ms Kearney) is feeling relieved but still shattered by the events of three-and-a-half years ago," Mr Taaffe said outside court. "She has expressed sorrow to the families because they were all her friends that died in that tragic accident."
The jury heard the accident happened at 9.45pm on a straight stretch of almost new road, with no excess speed by either vehicle.
The two Polish men in the van jumped out before it burst into flames.
Ms Kearney later told gardaí when she bought the Polo on Done Deal in 2014, the ad said it had a valid NCT until April 2015. After the accident, she found out it had run out months earlier.
Prosecutor Daniel Boland BL said every driver had a duty to ensure their tyres were properly inflated.
Roderick O'Hanlon SC, defending, said there was evidence Ms Kearney had taken reasonable care of her car.