Driver gets suspended sentence for killing cyclist in Cork

Woman (38) was responding to her children when she took eyes off road and hit cyclist

The driver pleaded guilty at Cork Circuit Criminal Court to careless driving causing the death of a 45-year-old father of one. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times.

A woman has been given a suspended jail sentence after a court heard how she crashed into a cyclist and killed him after turning around in her seat to respond to her child.

Maria Harkin (38), from Weston View, Carrigaline, Co Cork, pleaded guilty at Cork Circuit Criminal Court on Tuesday to careless driving causing the death of Donal O'Brien at Curraheen on the N40 Ballincollig bypass on May 14th, 2017.

Sgt Pat Lyons told the court Harkin was driving along the bypass with her two young children after visiting Smyth's Toys when one of them asked her to remove a tag from one a toy. She turned around to respond and took her eyes off the road.

The court heard Mr O’Brien (45), a father of one, was out for a morning cycle and was wearing all the appropriate safety gear including a high visibility jacket. Harkin veered left after turning around and crashed into the rear of his bicycle, causing him severe injuries. It was believed that he died instantly.


Sgt Lyons said that Harkin was extremely traumatised by what had happened and made admissions that she had never seen the cyclist and had collided with him. She was not travelling at excess speed and was breathalysed at the scene and found not to have been drinking.

“I would describe it as momentary lapse in concentration with catastrophic consequences,” said Sgt Lyons, who added that Harkin had no previous convictions and had never come to Garda attention beforehand. She had co-operated fully with gardaí and indicated a guilty plea at an early stage, he said.

‘It was the worst day of my life’

Mr O’Brien’s widow, Sandra, told the court they were married for 27 years but she never really worried about her husband going out cycling as he was very safety conscious. She said she now realises he was very vulnerable on a main road where drivers do not pay attention to all road users.

“When Donal left home that Sunday morning for his cycle, I never imagined in my wildest dreams that I would never see him again. I remember that Sunday as if it were only yesterday. It was the worst day of my life and I will never forget it,” she said in her victim impact statement.

“I know the woman did not set out to deliberately knock Donal off his bike and kill him but that is what happened. The lady could go home to her family and talk about it but Donal can never come home to us again. We will never see him or talk to him again which is absolutely heartbreaking.”

The couple’s daughter, Nicole, said in her victim impact statement that her father was her “go to person for everything” and she was “so lost and confused” without him and what happened to them as a family was “a real life nightmare”.

“At times the grief has raged me and other times, it’s my broken heart and sobbing eyes, my mind unable to accept the fact that my Dad got taken from us by a careless driver so close to home, he should have come home to us that day,” she said.

“I remember thinking it was a mistake, that it wasn’t my Dad . . . I have to pass that spot every day going into his car sales business where he should be. It’s horrible to pass the road where your dad lost his life and there was nothing he could do. I will never be the same person without my Dad.”

Judge Seán Ó Donnabháin said he accepted that there were no aggravating factors such as speed or drink involved but he believed that a simple failure to keep a proper lookout was an aggravating factor. He said, for him, that amounted to a high level of carelessness.

However, he accepted that Harkin had co-operated with gardaí, pleaded guilty and had no previous convictions which were all to her credit. He sentenced her to 12 months in jail, suspended in its entirety, and banned her from driving for five years.

Barry Roche

Barry Roche

Barry Roche is Southern Correspondent of The Irish Times