Friday 20 April 2018

Driver charged with causing deaths of three Irish children may walk away with just a fine

Brian and Maria O'Shea with their baby son Torben
Brian and Maria O'Shea with their baby son Torben
Danish driver Lasse Burholt faces a fine

DAVE KENNY

A DANISH driver who has been charged with causing the deaths of three Irish children may walk away with just a fine, the Sunday Independent has learned.

Lasse Burholt, 39, was charged last Wednesday with the "negligent manslaughter" of Soren, 11, Saoirse, 9, and three-year-old Connor O'Shea in North Jutland on July 16.

The children's mother, Maria, who was driving the family's Citroen Berlingo, miraculously survived the crash along with nine-month-old baby, Torben. Her husband Brian, who is from Dalkey, was not in the car but was called to the scene.

The official report has found that Burholt was driving at 125kmh in an 80kmh zone at the time of the accident. Police say he was using a mobile phone just before the crash, and wasn't paying "adequate attention" to traffic.

The O'Sheas, who live in Western Australia, were on holidays visiting Maria's dad in Lendum. Maria, a GP, was on her way to drop the children off with friends when tragedy struck.

Speaking to the Sunday Independent, Brian O'Shea described the decision to charge Burholt as a "Pyrrhic victory". He has been told by police that the project manager will not receive a custodial sentence for the accident which has been described as the worst in Danish memory.

A spokesman has told the O'Sheas that the prosecutor, Ingrid Hansen, will "go for a fine and the driving licence".

"He told us, by email [which the Sunday Independent has seen] that Danish law only allows for fines if the driver is not drunk, in a chase with police or just driving in a generally crazy manner. Even though Burholt was speeding, the police say it's not what they would classify as 'mad'.

"What is really galling is that they are still claiming that Maria broke traffic violations. They say that even if Burholt was driving too fast, the traffic code maintains that she should have held back before making the turn. It's a farce. Why would she have held back? She slowed down to make a left turn and reviewed the road in front of her. It was clear, so she made her turn. There was no requirement to yield as there was nothing there to yield to. The next thing she knew, she was searching for our children in a ditch."

Two weeks ago, Burholt admitted to the Sunday Independent that Maria was not at fault for the tragedy.

"I would like to emphasise the fact that I do not blame Maria for the accident in any way whatsoever.

"It was an accident. . . Tragic accident. Period."

He has still to make direct contact with the Danish-born mum. "He left us waiting four weeks to learn that he had been speeding. In that time Maria was led to believe that she was the person responsible for this tragedy.

"The police compounded this by releasing a statement that exonerated Burholt. Their spokesman, Christian Brinck, said he was driving within the limit and not responsible for the crash. The official report has shown this to be completely wrong. Why did the police do this? There are a lot of questions to be answered."

Burholt, who is a confessed lover of fast cars, suffered a public backlash after the Danish press reported that he had appeared on YouTube videoing himself while driving.

"I asked the police if they were going to investigate his phone usage on the day," said Mr O'Shea. "They said it was irrelevant. Then the press ran stories about him uploading video commentaries while driving, and they decided to investigate his mobile records. Now it's been found that he was using his phone on the journey to his father's house."

Despite Maria's vindication, the O'Sheas are not celebrating the decision to charge Burholt.

"I feel numb. I don't believe Burholt got out of bed intending to do what he did. However, if he gets just a fine and an endorsement, how is that a deterrent for other speeding drivers?" says Brian.

"Democracy – the protection of the rights of ordinary, law-abiding people – is a joke.

"Maria was going about her daily business with our kids. Now she is being called as a witness to the court case on October 24. There are no charges being made against her, but the police say she is still partly to blame. How is that going to make her feel?"

The O'Sheas, who shared their story with the Sunday Independent three weeks ago, are still in the early stages of coming to terms with the tragedy.

"It's now two months since we last gave our children their morning hugs," said Mr O'Shea. "The time passes but it's difficult to understand our new life. If we are to believe that they are in heaven, looking down at us, then what is it they see? Do Soren, Saoirse and Connor not miss us? Do they view our activities and feel left out? How can we even consider finding enjoyment in anything knowing they are not there to enjoy it with us?

"I try to find positives in this maze. I tell myself that I will have stories to tell them when I see them next. That I will be capable of imparting in words or thoughts an experience, a taste, a vista... to make up for their not having experienced it themselves.

"We are driving through France and Spain in a camper van at the moment. Just drifting. Up in the Alps, I noticed the trees change from deciduous to evergreen as we climbed higher. My first instinct was to point it out to the kids. But they weren't there. We come to a nice beach somewhere and I want to stop to go for a swim. Then I think 'what's the point'? The kids aren't here to enjoy it. I keep thinking of them saying 'hey dad, why are you going for a swim without us?'."

Sunday Independent

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