Wednesday 17 October 2018

'I am totally lost without him' - cyclist was killed when young mother took eyes off road to help kids with toys

  • Cyclist and father of one Donal O'Brien (45) was killed instantly
  • Maria Harkin (38) received a 12 month suspended prison sentence
  • Court heard she was helping kids in back seat with toys while driving
Donal O'Brien (45) was killed instantly when his bicycle struck by a car on the N40 South Ring Road near Curraheen, Cork
Donal O'Brien (45) was killed instantly when his bicycle struck by a car on the N40 South Ring Road near Curraheen, Cork
Ralph Riegel

Ralph Riegel

A YOUNG mother wept as it was revealed she fatally struck a cyclist after momentarily taking her eyes off a busy road to help her children in the back seat of her car to take tags off new toys they had just bought.

Maria Harkin (38) received a 12 month suspended prison sentence as Cork Circuit Criminal Court heard that cyclist and father of one Donal O'Brien (45) was killed instantly when his bicycle was struck from behind by the young mother's car on the N40 South Ring Road near Curraheen in Cork last year.

He had suffered catastrophic head injuries.

Ms Harkin of Weston View, Carrigaline, Co Cork pleaded guilty to careless driving causing death at Junction One of the N40 in Cork on May 14 2017.

Her two young children were in the back seat of her car when she took her eyes of the road and ran into the back of the bicycle being used by Mr O'Brien, a well-known garage operator and motor sports enthusiast in Cork.

She wept as Judge Sean O'Donnabhain imposed a suspended sentence and disqualified her from driving for five years as he warned that it was "carelessness of a very high order."

The judge warned that she should never have allowed herself to be distracted from driving in such a fashion on a busy road like that of the N40 in Ballincollig.

Mr O'Brien's widow Sandra and only child Nicole offered victim impact evidence that Judge O'Donnabhain said was "harrowing and hugely traumatic."

"Life without Donal is very lonely. I am totally lost without him," Mrs O'Brien wept.

She said her family were heartbroken by the fact her husband was just 10 minutes from home when he was struck and killed - and his family have to pass the spot where he died on a daily basis.

"I know this woman did not set out to deliberately knock Donal off his bike and to kill him that day but that is what she did," she said.

"It breaks my heart to know that Donal will never get the chance to walk his one and only daughter down the aisle."

She revealed her husband had been discussing retiring so he could spend more time with his wife, daughter and extended family.

Mr O'Brien's daughter, Nicole, said the events of that May 14 day were "horrible" for their entire family.

"It breaks my heart - it is a real life nightmare. I feel cheated about not having my dad."

She had taken up motorsports encouraged by her father - and, at the end of every outing since May 2017, still looks for her father in the crowd.

Sergeant Pat Lyons said Mrs Harkin had co-operated fully with Gardaí, had made immediate admissions and asked Gardaí to express her sympathies and condolences to the O'Brien family.

He said Ms Harkin told them she had just left a Cork toy shop with her children - and was distracted by them, taking her eyes momentarily off the road when they asked for tags to be taken off their new toys.

There were no brake marks found at the scene.

"It was a momentary lapse in concentration with catastrophic consequences," Sgt Lyons said.

However, Judge O'Donnabhain said that all motorists have a duty of care to other road users and that "keeping a good look out" is fundamental to that.

"This case should bring to mind the vulnerability of cyclists on the road and that drivers need to be spatially aware," he said.

"This man was doing everything right," Judge O'Donnabhain said.

"He was out cycling trying to keep himself fit. He was fully and properly equipped from the safety point of view."

"A cyclist (like this) should shine out like a lighthouse in a bog."

The judge said he felt the carelessness involved was "of a very high order."

However, he said he noted Ms Harkin's co-operation with Gardaí and her genuine remorse as well as the total absence of other aggravating factors such as speed, alcohol, drugs or prior dangerous driving.

He imposed a 12 month suspended sentence and disqualified her from driving for five years.

The disqualification will begin on July 1.

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