Truck driver who killed council worker had sleep apnoea, court hears

Judge bans driver for seven years, accepting he had undiagnosed sleep apnoea and did not deliberately put public at risk

The truck driver was  fined  a total of €4,000 at Sligo Circuit Court, which included €2,000 in respect of a charge of careless driving causing the death of Padraig Noone, and a further €1,000 on each of two charges of careless driving causing serious injury to two other council workers.

The truck driver was fined a total of €4,000 at Sligo Circuit Court, which included €2,000 in respect of a charge of careless driving causing the death of Padraig Noone, and a further €1,000 on each of two charges of careless driving causing serious injury to two other council workers.

 

A 43-year-old driver whose lorry went out of control on the N4 near Castlebaldwin, Co Sligo, killing a 62-year-old county council worker and seriously injuring two of his colleagues, has been given a non custodial sentence by a judge who said he had to assess the blameworthiness of the defendant.

Judge Francis Comerford had heard expert testimony that the accused, Czech national, Vlastimil Zachar of Connell Drive, Newbridge, Co Kildare had suffered from obstructive sleep apnoea which was not diagnosed until March 2018, two and a half years after the accident.

At Sligo Circuit Court on Tuesday he disqualified the accused from driving for seven years saying he was taking into account the fact that the defendant had not driven since the day of the accident on August 13th 2015.

He also fined him a total of €4,000, which included €2,000 in respect of a charge of careless driving causing the death of Padraig Noone, and a further €1,000 on each of two charges of careless driving causing serious injury to two other council workers.

The judge who heard harrowing evidence about the impact of the accident on Mr Noone’s family said he had to take into account two factors - culpability and consequences and in this case the consequences were extremely serious.

But he noted that the accused was not aware that he suffered from sleep apnoea . It was not a case where he had deliberately put the public at risk.

The jury had been told that sleep specialist Dr John Garvey had diagnosed the condition which he explained could lead to people falling asleep with no advance warning.

The diagnosis was confirmed by prosecution sleep expert Professor Richard Costello.

Defence counsel Eileen O’Leary SC said the defendant had not driven commercially or privately since the accident and had not worked since. She told the court that 85 per cent of people with sleep apnoea are undiagnosed.

No alcohol or drugs

The court heard that the defendant who did not recall what had happened, told gardaí he had eight hours sleep the previous night and had felt rested. There was no evidence that he had braked at the scene.

Judge Comerford said he accepted the defendant had fallen asleep.

He was told that tests showed no evidence of alcohol, drugs or medications in the system of the accused.

The judge pointed out that the defendant had been driving his Scania truck at a speed of 90km per hour on a stretch of road where the appropriate limit for such vehicles was 80km per hour. He said that while he accepted speed did not cause the accident, given the weight of the vehicle, it did have an impact on the consequences.

A jury who acquitted Zachar on a charge of dangerous driving causing death convicted him last December on the lesser charge of careless driving causing death. They had heard harrowing evidence of how the articulated truck had veered into the hard shoulder, ploughing into a council pick-up truck and a JCB, killing the father-of-two instantly and injuring his colleagues. Weather conditions were good and the accident happened on a straight stretch of road with a surface which was “in excellent condition”.

Broken heart

There was also evidence that there had been a number of warning signs indicating that there was verge trimming ahead and men at work.

In a victim impact statement read by her daughter Elaine, Colette Noone said that the last thing her husband had said to her on that bright sunny morning was that he would cut the back lawn when he got home. Her husband had worked from the age of 14 and for 38 years had been by her side. His family had always been his priority.

She said his death had caused a downward spiral in her physical and mental health but “no prescription can heal a broken heart”.

Mr Noone’s daughter Elaine said that on the morning of her wedding in October 2017 she had visited the monument to her father erected on the spot where he died . “The hardest walk of my life was the walk up the church aisle not having Daddy by my side”, she added.