A MAN insisted yesterday he panicked and accidentally put his foot on the accelerator instead of the brake when his car started moving on a ferry -- sending the vehicle into the fast-flowing River Lee.
The revelation came as Sebastien Loniewski (38) pleaded guilty to the manslaughter of his friend, Krystian Mielnik (28), who drowned when his Volkswagen Polo car plunged into Cork Harbour on March 8, 2009.
Loniewski, who cannot swim, was yesterday given a five-year suspended sentence at Cork Circuit Criminal Court after Judge Patrick Moran said he accepted that he did not intend to deliberately drive his car into the harbour that day.
The court was told it was "an extraordinary case", with no apparent explanation beyond it being a freak accident.
Loniewski, a married father of one with an address at Sunday's Well, Cork, pleaded guilty to the unlawful killing of Mr Mielnik on March 8, 2009, at the River Lee, Carrigaloe, Co Cork.
Judge Moran was told that both men had been playing soccer that evening and the defendant was giving Mr Mielnik a lift home.
Loniewski first jumped a queue of cars to board the ferry and then ignored a crewman's directions, parking his VW at the front near the safety barrier. Mr Mielnik was a front-seat passenger.
After the incident, Loniewski said he believed a large wave had hit the vessel, making his car move forward.
Sgt Ray Coughlan said subsequent tests found that the car could only have driven through the safety barrier and up over the raised loading ramp if it was under power.
Blood tests showed that Loniewski had no traces of alcohol or drugs in his system.
Defence counsel Jim Duggan said the entire incident was "a tragic accident".
"He must have innocently pressed the accelerator rather than hitting the brake when he felt the car was moving. Otherwise, it was an act of pure insanity for this man to drive off the boat when he cannot swim," Mr Duggan said.
The court was told there was no dispute between the two men prior to the incident and that Loniewski was employed and involved in a happy relationship at the time.
He has since married his girlfriend -- Natalia Skorczewska -- and they now have a five-month-old son.
"Sebastien is very gentle and caring. He prefers to love people than to fight with people," Ms Skorczewska told the court.
"He was very upset by this, he was very upset about what happened and about what happened to Krystian."
After the incident, Mr Mielnik was spotted in the water some distance from Loniewski by a local boatman.
However, by the time the boatman rescued Loniewski, the other man had vanished in the strong-flowing current.
Mr Mielnik's body was never found.