'It is like falling off a cliff and I was still hanging on the edge' - Widow's powerful statement after disqualified driver is jailed for killing husband in hit and run
A disqualified driver has been jailed for six and half years after he killed a “good Samaritan” while drink driving.
Witnesses stated that Desmond Collopy (29) was showing off and jerking the steering wheel before he struck 50 year old Eamon Cronin. Mr Cronin had just crossed the road to try and break up a fight and was almost on the footpath when he was hit.
Mr Cronin, a bank official, was described in court as a good Samaritan, a true gentleman and the love of his wife's life.
Collopy, who had six ongoing disqualifications orders over him at the time, never stopped at the scene. He told the back seat passengers in his Volkswagen Golf that someone had just thrown a bottle at his car.
Collopy of Landen Road, Ballyfermot, Dublin pleaded guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to dangerous driving causing death at North Street, Swords on August 16, 2014.
He also pleaded guilty to having no insurance, driving while disqualified and failing to stop his vehicle at the scene of an accident. His 186 previous convictions include 148 road traffic offences and 30 disqualification orders.
Sergeant Adrian Murray told Anne Marie Lawlor BL, prosecuting, that Collopy was seen on CCTV footage that night drinking in various different establishments and drank at least nine pints of lager before drinking cocktails in Swords. He continued drinking in a B and B after killing Mr Cronin.
Mr Cronin's widow, Jane Fitzsimons told the court, that her life has changed forever that night. She said she lost the love of her life, her best friend, her lover and her beloved husband of 19 years.
“It is like falling off a cliff and I was still hanging on the edge,” Ms Fitzsimons said.
She said it was the “simple things” that reminded her that her husband was really gone; seeing his toothbrush and razor in the bathroom knowing he would never use them again, the first time she hung clothes on the line and none of them were his, knowing that she wouldn't hear his key turn in the door again.
She recalled how her husband would sometimes sneak upstairs and “give me the fright of my life”, how they would dance in their stocking feet in the kitchen “just cause we felt like it” and how they would argue over the fact that he had not cut the grass.
She said she would miss his hugs and going outside in the garden to look at the stars with him.
Ms Fitzsimons also quoted her brother-in-law who spoke of how Mr Cronin always had his back as his big brother and was always ready to fight his corner.
She also quoted his work colleagues from Permanent TSB on Baggot Street, who described Mr Cronin as a comedian and their bodyguard, a true gentleman who always had a smile.
Ms Fitzsimons said her life was now lonelier than it ever was and said it had been shattered into tiny pieces.
Judge Martin Nolan told Ms Fitzsimons she had his great sympathies and he hoped she could rebuild her life.
He said there was no doubt that Collopy drove dangerously and that he left the scene of an accident.
The judge said, from maps presented to the court, that Collopy threw Mr Cronin forward about 12.5 meters when he struck him.
“He caused the death of a human being and left a gap in a family,” Judge Nolan commented. He described Mr Cronin as a “good Samaritan” who had earlier been trying to break up a fight.
He noted that Collopy shouldn't have been driving that night as he had been disqualified many times over and his actions showed “total contempt for road traffic law”.
“His actions have led to the death of a very good man. Many people in this court will be left with a great sorrow for a substantial period of time and he is responsible for that,” Judge Nolan said before he jailed Collopy for six and half years and disqualified him from driving for ten years.
Dominic McGinn SC, defending, submitted that Collopy co-operated with the garda investigation but accepted that he panicked and left the scene.
He described his client's behaviour on the night as “appalling” but told Judge Nolan he was remorseful and apologetic for his actions.
Counsel said Collopy had to come to terms with the fact that he has taken someone's life before he added that his client had written a letter addressed to Mr Cronin's family and friends.
Sgt Murray told Ms Lawlor that Collopy bought the Golf for €5,500 that day having given his sister's name as the registered owner. He had been under six operational disqualification orders at the time.
Various witness statements and analysis of CCTV footage showed that Collopy had up to eight pints of lager in Johnny Fox's in the Dublin Mountains before he attended a pub in Kinsealy where he had one drink.
He then drove to Wrights Cafe Bar in Swords were a number of people later told gardaí he had been drinking cocktails. He left that pub with another man and two women.
These women later outlined Collopy's driving in witness statements describing him as showing off and jerking the steering wheel. They said the music was blaring in the vehicle, he was driving in an erratic manner and one of the women said she was fearful for the safety of the other female passenger.
Sgt Murray said Collopy's Golf collided with Mr Cronin in Swords at 3am where a number of people had gathered following the closure of a nightclub.
He said there was no evidence that Collopy had applied the brakes and some witnesses stated he had just accelerated before the collision.
Collopy continued driving and ultimately went to a B&B in Palmerstown to continue drinking, having left the car in Landen Park in Ballyfermot.
He was arrested the following day for a separate public order incident but was later arrested and interviewed for causing Mr Cronin's death.
He suggested the man had “come from nowhere” and that he had stepped out from between parked vehicles although gardaí confirmed this was not the case.
Sgt Murray agreed with Mr McGinn that Collopy has had difficulty with substance abuse since he was a teenager and has been in and out of custody since he was 15 years old.
He accepted that the woman who sold Collopy the car knew him and allowed him to register it in his sister's name.
Counsel told Judge Nolan that his client is a father of two children but his son died in 2012. His own father died in 2010 having brought him and his siblings up.
Mr Cronin's wife, Jane Fitzsimons's told reporters outside of court that she felt justice had been served and she was happy with the sentence.
She said nothing would bring Eamon back but she knows where he is, “he's up in heaven now”.
Ms Fitzsimons described her husband as very strong and very soft and said he was “a marshmallow underneath”.
“And he was very kind and loving and he taught me a lot as well. Because when I met him when I was younger he was the best man I could ever have met. He really was lovely and he was a great husband and a great provider. And he was fun,” Ms Fitzsimons said.
Speaking of when she heard the tragic news she said she was in complete and utter shock, “a sense of panic in a way. But I just had to trust in the lord because that’s the only place I could go, was to the lord.”
When asked how she felt about hearing of Collopy's being banned from driving at the time Ms Fitzsimons said she was shocked, “because you think when you’re disqualified that people are off the road but obviously he went back on the road, he didn’t obey that.”
“It brings closure. I’m ok, considering. What keeps me going is my faith in the Lord and my family, Eamon’s family and my friends and my Christian friends as well. I have a lot of prayer since Eamon’s death. A lot of people had been praying for me so that’s really kept me going,” Ms Fitzsimons said.
Mr Cronin's brother Sean, agreed that justice had been done.
He said Collopy was clearly a man who had gone down the wrong road in life.
“I pray for the man that he’ll find his way in life, that he’ll find the Lord. Prison is a hard place and a hard road for anybody. We met his mother, his mother is very upset. We pray for him, for his mother, very difficult for them too,” Mr Cronin said.
“I grew up in the same bedroom as Eamon. He was a very strong individual. He was always out to defend you, watch your back, a man of conviction, of strong faith. He was a very popular man, very well liked, a big loss to us all,” Mr Cronin continued.
“Eamon spent all his life helping people. If he couldn’t help you financially he’d help you in some other way. In the branch he worked in in TSB he was looked upon as the leader of the pack."