Tuesday 21 November 2017

Hit-and-run driver who killed Councillor Willie Crowley jailed for four years

Willie Crowley, who was killed by dangerous driver Damien Kalinski, pictured with his wife, Claire Doyle
Willie Crowley, who was killed by dangerous driver Damien Kalinski, pictured with his wife, Claire Doyle

Declan Brennan

A hit-and-run driver who knocked down and killed Kildare councillor Willie Crowley in December 2015 has been jailed for four years.

Mr Crowley (56) died from his head injuries in Naas Hospital a few days after he was struck by a car driven by Damien Klasinski (29) on the evening of December 15, 2015. He had been walking home from his local pub at the time.

Klasinski of The Oaks, Newbridge, Co Kildare drove off after hitting Mr Crowley. He told the three others passengers in the car: “What am I supposed to do?”.

The passengers came forward to gardaí and Klasinski was arrested the next day when gardaí found him hiding in a wardrobe at a friend's home.

He told gardaí in interview that he had panicked, saying: “I am very sorry. It was an accident. I'm really hoping this man recovers”.

He later pleaded guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to dangerous driving causing the death of Mr Crowley on Eyre Street, Newbridge.

Judge Melanie Greally adjourned the case earlier this month. Today she suspended the last 18 months of a five and a half year sentence. She also disqualified him from driving for ten years.

She said Klasinski was entitled to credit for his plea of guilty, his admissions to gardaí, his remorse, his employment history and family circumstances and the fact that as a non-national prison would be more difficult for him.

A picture of the late Cllr Willie Crowley on his coffin Photo: Damien Eagers
A picture of the late Cllr Willie Crowley on his coffin Photo: Damien Eagers

She said that he drove too fast in conditions which demanded caution and a more moderate speed. She said the other aggravating factors included the fact that he had no licence or insurance.

The judge said this was the third time in ten months that the accused was detected for driving offences. In February 2015 he was driving while intoxicated and without insurance.

In November 2015 he was caught driving again without insurance. These offences didn't come to court until the following year when he received a two year driving ban.

Judge Greally said Klasinski's decision to drive away from the accident showed an abject disregard for the life of his victim and was a serious aggravating factor.

In her victim impact statement Mr Crowley's widow Claire Doyle said that her husband was taken from her “so brutally” and that her home was no longer a home.

“I have lost my husband, my best friend, my confidant and I do not look forward to my future,” she said.

The victim's sister Breda Crowley-Arnold said her brother's name was a byword in her family for all that was good and admirable.

Judge Greally said the impact statements eloquently described their agonising loss. She said Mr Crowley was a man who gave unstintingly to his family and community and his death brought incalculable suffering.

She said Mr Crowley, who had planned to run in the next general election, had “bold and bright plans for the future”.

Detective Garda Sergeant James O'Sullivan told Lorcan Staines BL, prosecuting, that Mr Crowley was walking home from the pub on the night but was not intoxicated.

He was crossing the street when Klasinski's car struck him. Sgt O'Sullivan said that Klasinski had met an oncoming vehicle and the street was too narrow for both vehicles to pass together.

Klasinski swerved in without braking to let the vehicle pass and swerved out again. Mr Crowley had been waiting behind the other vehicle and was standing in the middle of the road.

Klasinski said he swerved unsuccessfully to avoid the victim. He said he had only just set out on the road and was driving at around the speed limit of 50km/hr.

One eye witness said the impact sent the victim flying into the air and that the driver didn't sound his horn or apply the brakes.

Other witnesses estimated him to be travelling at speeds in excess of this and up to 80 km/hr. It had rained earlier in the day making the road wet and the street lighting was poor.

Read More: Speeding driver who killed councillor asked passengers, 'What am I supposed to do?' before driving away

Mr Staines said the prosecution was taken on the basis that the accused was driving at an unsafe speed in circumstances where the ground was wet and on a dark winter night in an area where people were around.

Klasinski, a Polish native, has 13 previous convictions mainly for road traffic offences. The court heard details of a testimonial from a prison chaplain who stated that Klasinski felt genuinely profound remorse.

“He relives this tragedy everyday. He cannot forgive himself,” the chaplain wrote.

Matthias Kelly QC, defending, said that his client was in a total blind panic when he drove away from the scene.

He said Klasinski realised the Crowley family had lost a cherished husband and was deeply remorseful. He fully admitted what he had done and wanted now to offer his sincere apology and condolences to the family, counsel said.

The maximum penalty for the offence is ten years imprisonment. Judge Greally said she was also taking into consideration the charges of failing to remain at the scene of an accident and failing to assist at the scene.

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