RELATIVES of eight men who died in the worst car crash in the history of the State burst into tears as the man who killed them was jailed for two years.
Shaun Kelly (26), from Hill Road, Ballmaggan, Buncrana, Co Donegal, stared at the floor of Letterkenny Circuit Court as he was handcuffed and taken away to serve his sentence.
He had pleaded guilty to causing the deaths in July after more than two years of denying it.
The men who died in the crash between Clonmany and Buncrana on July 11, 2010 were Hugh Friel (66), of Urris, Clonmany; Eamon McDaid (22), of Ballymagan, Buncrana; Mark McLaughlin (21), of Ballinahone, Fahan; Paul Doherty (19), of Ardagh, Ballyliffin; Ciaran Sweeney (19), of Ballyliffin; Patrick J McLaughlin (21), of Roxstown, Burnfoot; James McEleney (23), of Meenaduff, Clonmany; and Damien McLaughlin (21), of Umricam, Buncrana.
Yesterday's sentencing hearing was told that Kelly had a previous conviction for dangerous driving after an incident in which he almost rammed a garda car in 2007.
The tragic circumstances of the case were heightened by loud sobs at the back of the court when Alex Owens, for the State, said Mark McLaughlin's father John had taken his own life on July 11 last year, the third anniversary of the horrific crash.
Mr Owens said Kelly and his seven friends had been at the High Stool Bar in Clonmany on the night of the crash to watch Spain play the Netherlands in the 2010 World Cup final.
Witnesses said Kelly was then seen speeding out of the village, tyres screeching and smoking.
Just over 5km outside Clonmany on the road to Buncrana, witness James Gallagher told how he saw Kelly's car coming up behind him before going past, swerving and at speed, and commented: "If you don't slow down you are going to kill someone."
Twenty seconds later Kelly crossed over the road in his northern-registered 1.9 VW Passat and collided with Mrs Anne McGilloway, ripping the front wheel off her vehicle.
Seconds later he swerved again, this time sending his car sideways into the front of the car being driven by Hugh Friel.
The impact sent Mr Friel's car 18 metres up the road and sent the Passat crashing into a telegraph pole. All eight men died at the scene, with Mr Kelly left with a brain injury.
Mr Friel had lived with his brother, Anthony, who told the court his life had been destroyed by the incident.
PJ McLaughlin's sister, Aoife, wept during her statement.
"This will be our fifth Christmas without PJ. He always took the seat at the head of the table. The manner in which Shaun Kelly dealt with this case has made it so much more difficult," she said.
However, Ciaran Sweeney's father, Eamonn, said Kelly "needs all the help and support he can get, not punishment. Enough lives have been ruined . . . sending him to jail will make it harder for us. It is not what Ciaran would have wanted".
Kelly was handed a four-year jail sentence with two years suspended.