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Driver jailed for hit and run deaths of Irish pals

An Italian man has been sentenced to seven years for killing two Irish women while driving drunk in Rome.

Elizabeth Mary Gubbins (27) from Castleconnell, Co Limerick and Mary Clare Collins (28) from Athy, Co Kildare died instantly after a car driven by the drunken driver ploughed into them.

The friends were crossing a road close to the Vatican at around 3am on March 18, 2008.

Friedrich Vernarelli (33) was yesterday convicted of manslaughter, driving while drunk, leaving the scene of a crash and refusing to take a drug test.

During a very emotional hearing the families of the woman shouted 'yes' and hugged each other when the sentence was handed down.

The family of Kildare woman Mary Clare Collins told how the broken body of their daughter was left lying on the Lungotevere for more than six hours.

"She was a beautiful and gentle daughter and sister. We loved her deeply and the pain of our loss is sometimes quite unbearable."

They went on to strongly criticise suggestions made by Vernarelli's defence that the women had been drinking.

"She should have had the best years of her life ahead of her. We abhor the suggestions that she had too much to drink on that night.

"The toxicology report produced in court conclusively proved otherwise.

"Mary and her friend were mowed down by a car which was in the care of somebody who drank excessively on that evening.

"It is terrible to lose someone you love so needlessly. Mary and Elizabeth's lives were precious gifts and should not have been taken away that easily."

Judge Anna Maria Pazienza also ordered Vernarelli to pay almost €1m in legal costs and compensation.

He had pleaded not guilty throughout the court proceedings maintaining that a Hungarian tourist was behind the wheel of the car at the time of the fatal collision.

His lawyers confirmed that they would be appealing the verdict.

The Gubbins family spoke after the trial about how they wished they had been with Elizabeth at the time of her death.

"We are devastated at the loss of Elizabeth, such a bright, vital part of our family," the Gubbins family said in their statement.

"We miss her every day, and regret that we were not with her in her hour of need."

Vernarelli will not be imprisoned yet, as under Italian law he cannot be imprisoned until another two appeal processes have been exhausted.