'I am not a monster' says drink driver who killed five

Fri, May 8, 2009, 01:00

A 50-YEAR-OLD man in a wheelchair yesterday faced the families of five young people he admitted killing in a car crash and wept as he told them: “I am not a monster. I am not a bad man.”

Brendan Henderson was speaking after families complained at Letterkenny Circuit Court that he had shown no remorse in the 3½ years since the crash on the Inishowen peninsula in Donegal.

Henderson, Seven Oaks, Waterside, Derry, was jailed for four years after pleading guilty to dangerous driving causing the deaths of David Steele (23), Rochelle Peoples (22), Gavin Duffy (21), Charlene O’Connor (21) and Darren Quinn (21) near Quigley’s Point, Co Donegal, on October 8th, 2005. He was also banned from driving for 15 years.

The court heard psychiatric nurse Henderson drank pints of lager for at least seven hours at a charity function organised in a hotel by his wife Marie and then drove alone in his Mazda Premacy people carrier 14 miles in 15 minutes at about 3am, passing through the town of Carndonagh, before colliding with a Peugeot 306 in which the five young people were driving home from a disco.

They were pronounced dead at the scene of the collision on their side of the road. Henderson was the sole survivor.

David Steele owned the Peugeot 306 but, because he had had a few drinks, he handed his keys to Gavin Duffy to drive when leaving the disco, Judge John O’Hagan was told.

Charlene was Gavin’s girlfriend. Rochelle was David’s girlfriend. Darren and Gavin were cousins.

Garda Supt James Coen told a packed court that all the evidence in a painstaking investigation showed Gavin drove “perfectly” as he overtook a taxi within the speed limit on a broken white line.

The collision took place entirely on the Peugeot’s side of the road moments later around a bend. The impact happened when Henderson’s vehicle was travelling in the opposite direction at between 93 and 111km/h. The Peugeot was travelling at between 70 and 80km/h. The speed limit was 80km/h.

Supt Coen said all Henderson remembered was being at a function for the Irish Kidney Association organised by his wife in the Pollan Hotel in Ballyliffin about 7pm. He had arrived at 6.30pm when he started drinking. All he remembered after that was asking his wife for the key to their room in the hotel at about 1.30am.

For reasons the investigation had been unable to establish, despite full co-operation by Henderson, he drove off from the hotel at 3am. The crash happened 15 minutes later 14 miles away. An overnight bag he had carried to his room when checking in was found in the wreckage of his vehicle.

Supt Coen said such was the force of the collision that the point of impact could be established by marks left in the road which were still there today.

The court was told that medical reports showed Henderson had 2½ times the legal level of alcohol in his system. The court also heard that he nearly died on the operating table three times and had to be resuscitated four times. The court also heard that Henderson will never walk more than 50 yards – and that only with the aid of a zimmer frame.