A 23-year-old veterinary assistant found guilty this week at the Circuit Criminal Court in Tralee of dangerous driving causing serious bodily harm to an American tourist who later died, has been given a suspended sentence and disqualified from driving for four years.
Veterinary assistant Áine Stack, of Bedford, Listowel, had pleaded not guilty to an initial charge of dangerous driving causing the death of John Lenahan, a 67-year-old man from Colorado on August 30th, 2013, at Clogherbrien, a crossroads near Tralee.
Mr Lenahan died in hospital on September 10th of that year.
Handing down judgement on Thursday, Judge Thomas E O’Donnell said a major factor in the decision to suspend the 18 month sentence he was imposing was “the extraordinary” turn of events in which medical documents furnished to the the State in November 2014 were only disclosed to the defence during the trial last week.
The hospital doctor in his report said the direct cause of death was due to cardiac collapse, and a separate post mortem report by the State Pathologist Dr Margot Bolster was that it could not be said to the criminal standard of "beyond reasonable doubt" that Mr Lenahan's death was directly due to the road traffic incident.
Judge O’Donnell said Ms Stack had been charged with dangerous driving causing the death of the man, and the DPP had refused to amend that charge. As the trial was nearing its close, the DPP amended that charge to dangerous driving causing serious harm, he said.
There was “extremely late disclosure of evidence,” he said.
He also referred to the “efflux of time” since the crash, saying this and several other road traffic trials of this nature had been left “in legal limbo” while waiting for the outcome of a Supreme Court case.
What had occurred was “a single error of a momentary nature”, which had a tragic outcome, the judge said.
The victim impact statement of Robert Lenahan, the son of the deceased who was driving the car, showed "remarkable humanity and forgiveness and charity," Judge O'Donnell said.
Mr Lenahan wrote, “as a family, we believe Ms Stack’s intentions that day were not to kill my dad” and he asked that Ms Stack not be sent to prison.“We believe, as a family, in forgiveness, my dad would as well,” he had said.
Judge O’Donnell said the appropriate tariff was 18 months, and he suspended this for 18 months. There was a mandatory disqualification for four years.