Judge urges drivers to heed the ‘call for rest’ after road death

Death of 84-year-old man in Sligo road crash a tragic consequence of driver fatigue

Judge  warned drivers  to pull up, take a rest, have a snack or take a short walk if they feel tired or sleepy. Photograph: iStock

Judge warned drivers to pull up, take a rest, have a snack or take a short walk if they feel tired or sleepy. Photograph: iStock

 

A road crash in which an 84-year-old man was killed highlights in “the most tragic way” the impact that a motorist failing to heed their body’s call for rest can have , a judge has said.

Judge Keenan Johnson made the comments at Sligo Circuit Court during the sentencing of Gerry Higgins (56), who pleaded guilty to dangerous driving causing the death of Thomas Flanagan (84) at Lugnadeffa, Ballisodare on March 17th, 2015.

Higgins, of McGuinness Court, Aclare, who also pleaded guilty to dangerous driving at another location on the same date, was jailed for four years but the sentence was suspended for 10 years. He was banned from driving for life.

Mr Flanagan, from Ballinamallard, Co Fermanagh, and his wife Marie were driving to a holiday home in Enniscrone when Higgins’ Red Peugeot Partner van collided with their Toyota Auris.

Higgins was slumped over the wheel when the collision occurred and the court heard he had no recollection of the collision. He told the court that if he could swap places with Mr Flanagan he would.

Victim impact statement

In her victim impact statement, Ms Flanagan, who was driving the car at the time of the crash, said she was unable to attend her husband’s funeral.

“We were married for 57 years, we were always together and I miss his company each and every day and feel very lonely,” she said.

“He was the true heart of our family and was taken away in such a tragic and sudden way and has left a void that can’t be filled.”

She said she had attended grief counselling but nothing could “help me come to terms with the loss of Thomas”.

Judge Johnson said it was a horrific experience for Ms Flanagan and “nothing this court can do will undo the wrong that was perpetrated on her”.

He told the court that as a mark of respect to Mr Flanagan, a message needed to go out that if “you feel tired or sleepy, you should pull up, take a rest, have a snack, take a short walk before getting back into your car to recommence your journey”.

“This accident illustrates in the most tragic way the consequences that can flow from a driver failing to heed their body’s natural demand for sleep,” he added.

Judge Johnson said the Flanagan family may feel that the suspended sentence imposed “was too lenient in that the accused will not face any additional time in prison”.

He said he appreciated that the suffering of the accused “pales into insignificance when compared to the hurt and pain sustained by the Flanagan family”.

“I am firmly of the view that the interests of justice would not be served by a harsh punishment of the accused.”

Judge Johnson said he believed Mr Flanagan was “a man of reason, fairness and forgiveness” who would not want any more suffering to be endured by any of the parties in the case.