Six-year sentence for causing 'harm almost beyond belief' to passenger


A MOTORIST has been jailed for six years, with two suspended, for what a judge described as “harm almost beyond belief” to a young woman who now cannot move a muscle, eat or speak, but whose brain is otherwise fully functional.

Judge Anthony Hunt said he did not recall anybody being “so seriously and tragically maimed as a result of a road accident”. The maximum prison term that could have been imposed on Martin Kearney (31), for the injuries to Lydia Branley last September, was 10 years.

Earlier Judge Hunt heard Ms Branley (25), a former aviation radio controller, in a victim impact statement read by her sister Andrea, describe how her life had become a nightmare.

She had been a front-seat passenger in a car driven by Kearney, of Faranoo, Ballina, Co Mayo, at more than 150km/h (94mph).

Kearney drove a high-powered BMW 3 series car with a 3.2-litre engine shortly after his driving licence was returned halfway through an earlier five-year road ban.

He and a rear-seat male passenger were thrown 10 metres clear in the crash, which happened when he lost control turning off a main road on to a slip road and skidded 114m. Then the car tumbled over two barriers and rolled and tumbled another 100m across grass and struck a pole, before halting in a wreck with its roof on the ground.

Ms Branley of Largydonnell, Kinlough, Co Leitrim, was trapped inside and was freed after rescuers used cutting equipment.

She said when she came out of a coma nine months after the accident she was “horrified” to discover she lost the use of her limbs and could not talk or eat. Her dream to travel the world was smashed.

At Sligo Circuit Court last week, when the judge heard the account of the tragedy, Kearney admitted dangerous driving causing serious harm to Ms Branley.

Sitting at Roscommon Circuit Court yesterday, Judge Hunt passed sentence, which included a 20-year driving ban on Kearney. Ms Branley, sitting in a wheelchair with members of her family standing close by, was there to hear the sentence.

Judge Hunt said she had been successful in her education and in her career. “After this accident her mind is still present, but her body almost has ceased to function. Anybody who heard the evidence would appreciate the devastation brought about by Mr Kearney’s actions.”

He said very great speed was the primary cause of the tragedy and there was no evidence of drugs or alcohol consumption.

He recalled that Kearney worked in the motor industry and said his driving on the night of the crash, at 12.30am on September 30th, at Drumiskabole, Sligo, was “gross” and departed from what could be expected from a reasonably competent driver.

Ms Branley worked at Ballygirreen, Co Clare, as a radio officer linking communications between air traffic controllers at Prestwick in Scotland and pilots in the mid-Atlantic. She was involved in communications between controllers and the pilot of Air Force One when it flew President Barack Obama to Europe.