Truck driver claims 'bout of sneezing' caused him to strike car on hard shoulder which killed new mum
A TRUCK driver who suddenly veered off the M8 Dublin-Cork motorway and struck a car stopped on the hard shoulder, killing a young mother on her way to see her sick newborn baby in a Dublin hospital, avoided a prison sentence.
Tipperary Circuit Criminal Court heard that Nicola Kenny (26) died instantly from multiple injuries in the collision between the truck and the car in which she was a back seat passenger - just seconds after she heard from Temple Street Children's Hospital that her 24 hour old baby Lily Rose was fine and she didn't need to make the trip to Dublin to see her.
Truck driver Ciaran McBride (33) pleaded guilty before Tipperary Circuit Criminal Court to careless driving causing death between Junctions 10 and 9 on the M8 Dublin-Cork motorway on September 5 2016.
Judge Tom Teehan, in imposing a suspended 18 month prison sentence, said the evidence indicated it was most likely the truck driver momentarily fell asleep at the wheel rather than being distracted by a fit of sneezing as claimed.
"(It was) much more consistent with falling asleep at the wheel," he said.
Judge Teehan said the consequences for the Kenny family of the accident were truly enormous.
"The greater the size of the vehicle, the greater the onus on the person driving it," he said.
"He is somebody who is going to have to live for the rest of his days with the knowledge that he has caused the death of another human being and caused life changing effects to an entire family."
The 2001 Volvo truck driven by Mr McBride of Carna, Keady, Co Armagh ploughed into the rear of the Ford Focus, stopped on the hard shoulder, which contained Ms Kenny, her mother, Ann, a front seat passenger, and her aunt, Irene Whelan Slattery.
Ms Kenny had given birth to a baby girl, Lily Rose, in Clonmel Hospital on September 4.
However, the little girl became ill and was rushed to Temple Street in Dublin.
Ms Kenny had just been collected by her Thurles-based mother and aunt and was on her way to see the infant in Dublin.
Mrs Whelan Slattery suffered a traumatic brain injury in the collision and had to be airlifted to University Hospital Limerick (UHL).
She now suffers from severe memory problems.
In hard-hitting victim impact statements, Nicola's parents, Ann and Paddy, said their lives had been left devastated by the tragedy.
"The death of Nicola as a young mother was devastating both for myself and my entire family," her mother said.
"Life will never be the same again."
Nicola's father, Paddy, said they are now raising Lily Rose instead of her mother/their daughter.
"It has left a huge hole in our lives - Nicola's death is a big loss to our family and Lily Rose will have to grow up without her mother," he said.
Family members did not attend the sentencing hearing.
Judge Teehan was told that the defendant indicated to Gardaí he would plead at a very early stage and co-operated fully with the investigation.
Mr McBride had contacted the Kenny family, through an Armagh priest, and offered to attend Nicola's funeral.
However, he agreed not to do so when he learned of the Tipperary family's wishes.
Defence counsel Philip Sheahan said his client was deeply remorseful and was now suffering Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
"Remorse and regret - sorrow is profound for Mr McBride," he said.
"But it pales in comparison to the level of pain and suffering visited on the victim's family."
Mr Sheahan said his client was a hard-working family man who now employs five people.
He no longer works as a truck driver.
The court heard that the defendant has a number of previous convictions, most of which occurred in his teens.
In 2012, he was convicted in France in relation to smuggling a person in his lorry though the court heard he was not aware of the individuals who had broken into his vehicle and had no knowledge of them when he was stopped by French police.
Sergeant Declan Corrigan told the court the Ford Focus had pulled over onto the hard shoulder around 12.25pm that day to allow Ms Kenny, seated in the back, to take an urgent phone call from Temple Street.
"The call was to tell Nicola the baby was fine and there was no need to travel to Dublin," he said.
Seconds after the call finished, the Ford was truck from the rear by the Volvo truck driven by the defendant.
A passing motorist, Pat Foley, told Gardaí he saw the lorry "slowly veering off the road and onto the hard shoulder."
Mr Foley saw the tragic collision in his rear view mirror.
Weather, speed, alcohol or drugs were not factors in the tragedy.
Garda Corrigan said the tachograph on Mr McBride's lorry was found not to be working properly because the recording disc had been incorrectly inserted.
The court heard that the truck driver had gone to bed at midnight and gotten up at 4.30am to go to work that day.
He drove from his Armagh home to Kells, then onto Cork and was on his way back to Kells when the tragic collision occurred.
The defendant had driven a total of 470km since he left home that day.
The driver insisted to Gardaí he had taken the required breaks of 15 minutes and 30 minutes during that period.
Because the tachograph was not working properly, Gardaí could not verify from it all the travel and stoppage details of the lorry.
However, Garda Corrigan said officers had to dispute the stop periods claimed as the lorry was equipped with a toll payment scanning device - and when Gardaí recreated the journey from its details through five toll plazas, they found the trip did not match the driver breaks as claimed.
A Garda forensic investigation into the accident found that it was due to driver error.
Both the car and truck were in proper mechanical condition.
Mr McBride insisted at the scene and to Gardaí that the accident was caused when he suddenly suffered a bout of sneezing.
"He sneezed - it was on account of that it would appear his vehicle slightly veered onto the hard shoulder," Mr Sheahan SC said.
"He had been caught by a bout of sneezing."
Another witness who was in a car behind Mr McBride's lorry said they only spotted the Ford Focus on the hard shoulder a short time before the impact.
The witness said the lorry driver appeared to be trying to correct and adjust his driving angle when the collision occurred.
The car was on the hard shoulder and completely off the motorway.
After the impact, it was driven up on the grass embankment.
The lorry was fitted with a 90kph speed limiter.
Judge Teehan described it as a desperately tragic case with terrible consequences for the Kenny family.
He imposed an 18 month suspended prison sentence and disqualified Mr McBride from driving for five years.
He also imposed a compensation order, in favour of Paddy and Ann Kenny, whereby Mr McBride must pay the victim's parents Euro 2,000 a year for five years, to a total of Euro 10,000, by 2023.