A man has been jailed for 3½ years for stealing a van with two young children in the back while its owner put money in a parking meter in Navan, Co Meath.
The children — a girl (10) and a boy (six) - were later found abandoned in the middle of a dual carriageway near the centre of the town after being removed from the van.
Christopher McDonagh (21), of St Francis Park, Windtown, Navan, pleaded guilty to a charge of endangerment by removing a child from the rear of a vehicle on September 6th last and leaving the child in the company of another child, creating a substantial risk of death or serious harm.
The defendant, who has 114 previous convictions, also admitted to the unauthorised taking of a vehicle at Abbeylands on the same date.
Det Garda Katryn Christie told prosecuting counsel Conor O' Doherty BL the children were behind a partition in the van and began screaming as the defendant drove off.
The detective said the carpark where the events began was monitored by CCTV and gardaí watching the monitors saw McDonagh and a woman jump into the van. The court heard gardaí tracked the van as it made its way along the Dublin Road before coming to a halt at a junction about two minutes later.
“The female got out and the children were pulled out via a side door and left in the middle of the dual carriageway,” Det Garda Christie said, adding that the van then drove off towards Dublin.
The young girl then led the boy to safety, the court heard.
McDonagh evaded capture but was arrested after the van was found abandoned near Balrath some days later.
The young boy’s father told the court he thought he was going to collapse when he saw the defendant drive off.
“My heart almost exploded in my chest,” he said.
The children’s mother said they had been left traumatised by the incident and had changed from being happy and outgoing to being fearful.
She said her son suffered recurring nightmares in which he heard the defendant’s voice shouting “Get out. Get out”. Her daughter lived in fear of McDonagh and his accomplice “coming in the window”.
Defence barrister Pat Purcell BL told the court his client had suffered a series of personal tragedies in the past and had a drug problem.
Judge Terry O’Sullivan described the abandonment of the children as “a scandalous act” noting that they had been “knowingly been left in the middle of traffic”.
He sentenced McDonagh to 4½ years on the endangerment charge with the final 12 months suspended and imposed a concurrent term of two years for stealing the van.