Wednesday 21 March 2018

'It's as bad as going out and killing somebody by the hand of a gun or by your fist' unlicensed driver who killed cyclist (62) in hit and run given extra jail time

23/02/17Eugene Maher's widow, Marie, and daughter Lisa speak to the media outside Dublin appeals Courts after DPP won appeal against Christopher Coleman (27) Pic Collins Courts
23/02/17Eugene Maher's widow, Marie, and daughter Lisa speak to the media outside Dublin appeals Courts after DPP won appeal against Christopher Coleman (27) Pic Collins Courts
Eugene Maher's widow, Marie, and daughter Lisa speak to the media outside Dublin appeals Courts after DPP won appeal against Christopher Coleman (27)
Christopher Coleman. Photo: Courtpix

Ruaidhrí Giblin

An unlicensed driver who “ploughed into” a 62-year-old cyclist - killing him - and drove away has has been given an extra nine months in jail following an appeal by prosecutors.

Christopher Coleman (27), of Reuben Street, in the capital, had pleaded guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to dangerous driving causing the death of Eugene Maher (62) at Clontarf Road, Dublin on June 30th, 2015. Coleman also admitted leaving the scene of the crash and driving without insurance.

He was sentenced to two-and-a-half years imprisonment by Judge Melanie Greally on June 23 last and was also disqualified from driving for 15 years.

The Director of Public Prosecutions successfully sought a review of Coleman's sentence on grounds that it was “unduly lenient”.

The Court of Appeal resentenced Colemanon Thursday to six years imprisonment with the final two years and nine months suspended. The three-judge court effectively increased his jail time by nine months.

Counsel for the DPP, Eilis Brennan BL, told the three-judge court that the incident occurred at 6.30pm on “one of those all too rare sunny evenings in June”. There were many pedestrians and a lot of slow moving traffic on the road at that time.

Ms Brennan said the deceased, Mr Maher, was a 62-year-old man “in the prime of his life” going on his daily cycle. As he was crossing the pedestrian lights, which were in his favour, a car came out of nowhere and “ploughed into him”, she said.

The car did not belong to Coleman, the court heard. It had been driven by his friend to the beach and Coleman drove it back because he had not been drinking.

Ms Brennan said that as far back as the Yacht Bar and Restaurant, the car had been seen driving dangerously, at speed and on the wrong side of the road. Witnesses said people were hanging out of the window interacting with another car.

Ms Brennan said the car was gauged to be travelling at speeds between 72 and 79 km/hr in a 50km/hr zone.

She said the car crashed into Mr Maher, somebody “popped out”, took a look at the man on the ground, got back into the car and the car drove away. Bystanders, in response to this, were saying “don't drive off” and other drivers were flashing their lights, Ms Brennan said.

The car was found abandoned nearby in Marino. A bus driver encountered five men “very anxious” to get on the bus.

The Gardaí were able to identify all five people who got on the bus. They got addresses for the people in Dublin and an additional address for them in Wexford.

On July 4, a solicitor made contact for all five men indicating that they would come forward.

Ms Brennan said the body of Mr Maher had been lying in the morgue for some days and could not be released until the driver was located because, in a prosecution, the driver would have the right to examine the body. She said it was significant additional anguish for the Maher family.

She said Mr Maher was an “extraordinary healthy and fit” 62-year-old. His wife, two kids and a number of grandchildren were left with a “deep loss”. He ran a business with his wife which closed as a result of his death.

She said Coleman had 15 previous convictions including three driving bans. At the time of this incident he had been disqualified from driving.

Ms Brennan submitted that the sentencing judge's starting point of four years was too low.

What appeared to have influenced the sentencing judge, Ms Brennan said, was that there hadn't been multiple deaths and drink was not a factor. But the sentencing judge failed to look at some of the other “extremely aggravating” factors, she submitted.

She said Coleman had been disqualified from driving before. He had been sanctioned but hadn't taken that sanction seriously.

Coleman had no license, which was “at least as aggravating” as having drink on board. He had never “demonstrated a capacity to control a car,” she said.

There was evidence of erratic driving as far back as the Yacht, erratic driving at the scene and erratic driving when Coleman drove away.

Furthermore, there was a deliberate attempt to evade detection. She said Coleman came forward after all five men had been identified and the Gardai came to locate them.

Ms Brennan submitted that not enough weight was given to the public interest in deterring this kind of driving and the behaviour afterwards.

She said society had an interest in deterring these kinds of offences and sending out a message that anybody who drives in these circumstances would be subject to the rigours of the law.

The appropriate headline sentence was six years not four, the court held. In view of the “exceptional mitigation” in Coleman's case, the court suspended the final two years and nine months.

Mr Justice Sheehan said Coleman's remorse and guilty plea were important. There was an excellent probation report, a poignant letter from Coleman's mother and an excellent report from the Governor of Mountjoy.

Mr Justice Sheehan said Coleman had 15 previous convictions with at least ten for road traffic offences. He had no previous convictions for dangerous driving. He had never held a license and has been disqualified on three separate occasions since 2010.

The sentencing judge noted that Coleman had been raised under very challenging circumstances in Fatima Mansions. “Against the odds,” she noted, Coleman did not succumb to a life of drugs or alcoholic abus and, apart from the road traffic matters, had not led a life characterised by criminality, the sentencing judge noted.

He was in full time employment and had been in a stable relationship for 12 years at the time of the offence.

In view of the mitigation, the court suspended the final two years and nine months. The 15 year disqualification remained in place.

Outside court Eugene Maher's daughter Lisa said: “Its not dangerous driving and its not careless driving. The severity of these sentences needs to be changed it needs to be vehicular manslaughter. It's as bad as going out and killing somebody by the hand of a gun or by your fist. My dad was killed by a car and it doesn't seem to be taken as seriously as we would like. So we will continue to lobby for what we believe is right.”

“Christopher Coleman was under a six year ban, his third consecutive ban, he shouldn't have been on the road. He had no insurance, he was driving at reckless speeds. What he did was completely reckless, completely careless and it ripped our entire family apart.”

“My dad was an amazing person. Its left a huge void in our lives. We miss him so much every day. The memories he left behind will be always with us.”

“But we have two new babies born into our family in the last year so it gives us some peace. A little gift we call them from him.”

Eugene's widow, Marie Maher said: “He's been doing that journey on that road for 30 years down to Dollymount and back and he was very very careful when it came to pedestrian lights and crossing at the light. That day that's exactly what he did. He waited until the lights were red and just at that moment he was in the wrorng pace at the wrong time. My life will never be the same again without him. At that moment my life changed forever. I miss him so much we were like two peas on a pod. He was an amazing man; Larger than life. I'll never forget him. He was an amazing man. My life will never be the same again without him but I have to carry on. I have two amazing beautiful little grandsons. Four in fact but two new ones in the last year. My life will carry on obviously for them but I will never forget Eugene, never.”

Lisa added: “My dad was a very forgiving person. He always gave people a second chance. He would have been the type of man that would have given a person like Christopher Coleman a second chance at a new life. So we as a family are going to take the next step at starting the forgiving process. That's something that we really really want to do, forgive Christopher Coleman for what he did to us. The end he gave to Dad.”

“We hope he will turn his life around on the back of this. That lessons will be learned. Maybe if his life can be turned around and he can help other do the same thing and not make the mistakes that he's made. Maybe my dad's death won't be in vain.”

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