Farmer jailed after admitting dangerous driving causing death of pensioner

Dan Coakley pleaded guilty earlier this year

A 44-year-old farmer has been jailed for three years and nine months after he admitted dangerous driving causing the death of an 80-year-old man.

He was more than four times over the legal limit for drink driving and veered over to the wrong side of the road and hit an oncoming van.

Dan Coakley of Derryleigh, Inchigeelagh, Co Cork had a reading of 99 mcgs of alcohol per 100 millilitres of breath, more than four times the legal limit of 22 mcgs per 100 millilitres of breath, when the crash happened at 11.30am on November 8th, 2020, at Carrigleigh, Inchigeelagh.

Coakley pleaded guilty earlier this year to dangerous driving causing the death of pensioner David Service, who was a passenger in a car driven by his son, Gary Service. Coakley also pleaded guilty to drink driving and knowingly or recklessly having a defective vehicle at the time of the collision.

Garda Daragh Moore told Judge Helen Boyle at the earlier sitting of Cork Circuit Criminal Court that Coakley was the driver of a black Audi car which crossed over the centre white line at Carrigleigh, Inchigeelagh, at 11.30am on November 8th, 2020, causing the death of Mr Service.

The court heard that Gary Service and his father David were returning to Cork city from Gougane Barra. Gary Service was driving and his father David was a front-seat passenger when Coakley's car crossed over the white line and hit them and pushed their van backwards.

Garda Moore said gardaí detected a smell of alcohol from Coakley at the scene and a breath sample was taken. Coakley was subsequently arrested and taken to Macroom Garda Station where he underwent an Evidenzer test and was found to be four times over the limit.

Both vehicles were sent for an examination. It was subsequently found that the Audi had an excessively worn nearside front track rod end and an excessively worn nearside front suspension upper ball joint. This led to Coakley being charged with driving a defective vehicle.

Defence barrister Donal O’Sullivan BL said that his client was “one hundred per cent wrong but also very remorseful”. “He was completely wrong. He should feel bad. He does feel bad. He remained at the scene. There was no attempt by him to escape the scene.

“He is somebody who would have an alcohol problem. There were defects in the vehicle which were viewed as dangerous defects, but the reality of this is my client was very drunk and driving a car. There is no getting around that.

“It seems to have been the day after a night’s drinking. There is a genuine level of remorse. He is destroyed by it. He should be destroyed by it. He feels what he did very deeply,” said Mr O’Sullivan, who presented a letter to the court in which Coakley expressed his remorse to Mr Service’s family.

Coakley was remanded in custody for sentence on Friday and Judge Boyle recalled the circumstances of the fatal collision, noting that Mr Service had suffered a fractured pelvis in the crash and was expected to make a good recovery but died some 18 days later at Cork University Hospital.

She said it was a serious offence which had devastating consequences for Mr Service and his family as she noted the contents of a Victim Impact Statement from Mr Service's wife of 57 years, Teresa, and his four sons, David, Gary, Darren and Colin. They felt a huge loss as a result of his death.

Judge Boyle noted there was a defect in Coakley’s car and that was a contributory factor to the accident, but the prime cause of the collision was the fact Coakley was driving while drunk and that caused him to crash into Mr Service’s car which was on the correct side.

Judge Boyle said a report from the Probation Service indicated Coakley’s entire life had been “blighted” by alcohol addiction which had led to death in his own family, while he himself had struggled to deal with his own alcohol addiction issues.

She said the probation report noted Coakley,"a small farmer who had struggled all his life", had gone for treatment at Talbot Grove in Kerry only to lapse back into alcohol misuse, but he had since engaged with Arbour House in Cork to address his addiction issues.

She also noted the probation report said Coakley presented as a vulnerable person with mental health difficulties, who was reluctant to engage in group therapy. But the probation report recommended that he continue to engage with mental health services.

She noted Coakley was in a relationship at the time of the fatal collision in 2020 but that relationship had since ended, even though he remained friends with the person, who remained very supportive of him in his struggles with alcoholism and mental health difficulties.

“I accept that you are deeply remorseful and accept full responsibility for drink driving as you did on the day, leading to the death of Mr Service,” said Judge Boyle as she noted the crash also caused injuries to Gary Service, whose back and shoulder were hurt in the collision.

She listed the aggravating factors, including the fact that the alcohol reading was high but there were also mitigating factors she had to consider including that Coakley had no previous convictions, remained at the scene, co-operated fully with gardaí and pleaded guilty.

“The guilty plea in particular is of value because you have not only saved the state the time and expense of a trial, but you have spared the witnesses the trauma of having to give evidence in a trial and that is to your credit,” she said.

Judge Boyle noted the maximum sentence available for dangerous driving causing death was 10 years, but taking all factors into account she believed the appropriate sentence was four years and nine months to take account of proportionality, deterrence and rehabilitation.

She said she would suspend the final 12 months, given Coakley’s guilty plea, leaving him with three years and nine months to serve in jail, while she also gave him six months concurrent for drink driving and she disqualified him from driving for a period of 10 years.