Monday 18 February 2019

'Take her down' - judge jails care assistant for crashing car when drunk with baby on board

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Andrew Phelan

Andrew Phelan

A hospital care assistant has been jailed after she crashed her car while drunk, with an open can of beer beside her and her one-year-old baby crying in the backseat.

The single mother-of-one had been drinking the night before after working six 12-hour shifts in a row, then had more beer at home before leaving to bring her child to an afternoon birthday party.

Gardai found her slouched over the wheel, so drunk she was “unable to talk,” with her young child in a “highly distressed” state. She tested more than four times the alcohol limit.

Jailing her for 28 days, Judge David McHugh said it was an “appalling breach of trust” and she “thoroughly deserved” the sentence.

The woman, who cannot be named, pleaded guilty to being drunk in charge of a child under the age of seven, as well as being drunk in charge of a vehicle.

Blanchardstown District Court heard the incident happened at Nangor Road, Clondalkin at 3.30pm on June 24 last.

Garda Sergeant Maria Callaghan said gardai were called to the scene and found the car in the bus lane with the accused slouched over the steering wheel. The woman had a can of beer open in the car.

When gardai spoke to her she was slurring her words and her one-year-old baby was in the back seat. She was arrested and brought to Clondalkin Garda Station, where she tested more than four times the drink driving limit. The child was removed to safety.

The court heard the accused had smelled of alcohol and the baby was in a highly distressed state, crying and sweating. The mother had no previous convictions.

The incident was investigated by the child and family agency, Tusla, which found no ongoing issues, defence solicitor Valerie Buckley said. The agency was satisfied that it was a “once off incident that will not be repeated.”

The accused, a single mother, was working as a care assistant at a Dublin hospital for the last five years.

Before the incident happened, she had worked six 12-hour night shifts and on the day, she was going to a birthday party with her child.

She had drink taken the night before and it was still in her system, Ms Buckley said. The accused “had some beer in her home before she left and she got in her car and drove.”

Nobody was injured and she was “very grateful for that.”

The accused had not taken a drink since the incident and was in counselling. She had worked in the health care sector all her life.

The woman was garda vetted and would lose her job is she was convicted for the charge of being drunk in charge of a child, Ms Buckley said.

Judge McHugh said it was an “appalling breach of trust” for the accused’s child and members of the public who were put in danger.

The woman had been “incapable of speaking or performing any other normal function when the gardai came upon her in a crashed car.”

Ms Buckley said her client was “beyond devastated that this happened.”

Judge McHugh fined the accused €200 and banned her from driving for three years for being drunk in charge of a vehicle.

The judge considered the other charge to be more serious and that the breach of trust was “so great that I’m sending this lady to prison.”

“Were it not for the intervention of fate, or whatever, she may well have been in a different forum,” he said. “She thoroughly deserves the sentence being handed down today and I have no hesitation in imposing same. Take her down.”

He refused to reconsider his decision after Ms Buckley appealed for lenience, saying the accused had nobody else to mind her child.

The judge noted that the relevant law -  under the Summary Jurisdiction Act of 1908 - was “seriously outdated” as the maximum penalty was “40 shillings with or without hard labour for a period of a month.”

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