A drunk man who drove 7km in the wrong direction down a dual carriageway and killed a man returning from his fiancee's birthday party avoided jail after a judge said he thought alcohol wasn't the cause of the accident.
Civil engineer Ronan Cunningham (29), of Enniskeen, Kingscourt, Co Cavan, pleaded guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to dangerous driving causing the death of Emanuel Mendez (23) on October 10, 2010, at Rathcoole, on the N7 Naas dual carriageway.
Cunningham also pleaded guilty to driving while under the influence of alcohol on the same date.
Judge Martin Nolan sentenced Cunningham to five years in prison, which he suspended in full on condition that he is of good behaviour for that period. He also disqualified him from driving for five years.
Prosecution counsel Melanie Greally told Judge Nolan that Cunningham had been attending a darts tournament at the Citywest Hotel on the night of the accident.
Cunningham, who had consumed "about eight pints", had booked a room in the hotel but "could offer no reason" why he decided to drive back to Cavan at 1am.
He ended up driving south on the N7 until he came off at the Kill slip road before driving back down onto the dual carriageway in the wrong direction.
The court heard Mr Mendez and his fiancee Latoya Scott were returning from a dinner celebrating Ms Scott's birthday and were travelling in the outer lane in the direction of Naas when, according to Ms Scott, all she could remember was seeing a flash of light and feeling the impact, which sent their car spinning out of control.
Ms Scott managed to free herself but her fiance, who was revived momentarily at the scene, was trapped and had to be cut from the wreckage.
He was taken to hospital where he later died.
Ms Scott said in her victim-impact statement that her fiance's death had left her completely devastated. She said: "My whole life has changed. I feel I don't have a life. My life is totally empty and I don't feel I will ever celebrate a birthday again.
"Emmanuel was happy, calm, generous and would always say hello to everyone. I am left with so many questions."
The court heard that after he was discharged from hospital with minor injuries, Cunningham presented himself at a garda station.
He told gardai he could not remember getting into the car, driving the car onto the slip road or later against the flow of traffic.
After the accident, he was found to have had 150mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood.
Defence counsel Paul Greene said his client was extremely remorseful for what happened and before that night was a man of excellent character with no previous convictions.
Judge Nolan said he wasn't sure what had happened to Cunningham on the night of the offenses but said he didn't think drink caused him to do what he did.
He said his behaviour was totally out of character for Cunningham who he said, up until that night, was "a perfectly sensible man".
"I'm not sure Mr Cunningham knew what he was doing. I'm not sure the drink was the cause," the judge said.
"I'm not sure that I don't accept his explanation. It's very difficult to justly sentence this case.
"He's not dishonest, he's not stupid and he's a man who doesn't lack sense. I think something happened to Mr Cunningham that night that's not explainable by the drink he took".
Judge Nolan said Cunningham was certainly "drunk while driving the car" and that is "obviously a possibility" that the amount of drink put him into an "insensible state".
He said he had to take into account Cunningham's guilty plea, his co-operation with gardai, his lack of previous convictions and his own doubt surrounding whether the guilty man knew what he was doing.
An amount of €25,000 was handed into the court as a token of Cunningham's remorse.