A 75 year old taxi driver has been jailed for four years for failing to remain at the scene of a crash in which a doctor was fatally injured as he walked home to his hotel from a Christmas party.
Denis McSweeney from Pouladuff Road, Ballyphehane in Cork pleaded guilty to four charges relating to the road traffic collision which claimed the life of consultant psychiatrist Dr Martin Lawlor (49) on December 15th 2018. He pleaded guilty to failing to give appropriate information to gardaí, failing to keep the vehicle at or near the scene, failing to report the incident and failing to stop his vehicle .
Det Garda Brid Norris told Cork Circuit Criminal Court on Wednesday that Dr Lawlor was walking up the Kinsale Road on his way to his airport hotel at about 5.30am after a Christmas night out with colleagues when he was hit by a car.
Driving conditions were bad with heavy rain and thick fog making for poor visibility while there was also no footpath or street lighting in the area. The car which hit Dr Lawlor failed to stop.
Dr Lawlor was discovered by a passing motorist, emergency services were alerted but he was pronounced dead at the scene.
Gardaí put a cordon of checkpoints in place and at around 6am, they stopped McSweeney, who had left the collision scene but had returned to the area when he brought a fare to Cork Airport.
Det Garda Norris said McSweeney’s car was badly damaged with a cracked windscreen and broken light while the wing mirror was also hanging off and he was evasive when he was asked how his vehicle had sustained the damage.
He initially said he had struck an animal but when Supt Charlie Barry asked him had he struck a pedestrian, he admitted he had and was arrested. During interview he made full admissions about leaving the scene.
Det Garda Norris confirmed to defence barrister, Donal O’Sullivan BL that McSweeney had no previous convictions and had co-operated with the investigation and entered an early plea to the four charges.
Dr Lawlor’s widow, Helen Murphy Lawlor told how her life and the lives of her three children, Jennifer (20), Samuel (16) and Rebecca (14) were changed irrevocably when her husband was killed.
“Myself and our three children made our lonely journey from Manchester to Cork,” she said. Her husband commuted from his home in Manchester to work in Cork every week.
Ms Murphy Lawlor told the court her husband was at the peak of his career, working in the HSE and with Nua Healthcare and doing charity work with a project he had helped set up, State of Mind.
"Martin was renowned and respected - he always thought of others and concentrated on making a better world for all during his many fruitful years working with colleagues in both Ireland and the UK.
“On a personal level, how does one put into words the loss of a son, brother, husband and father? There is no language - Jennifer lost her father at 18, Samuel at 14, and Rebecca was only 12 years of age.
“He is forever absent from the happy times - school, graduation, holidays, family celebrations - he is forever absent in difficult times of sickness, worry, loss - every day he is thought of and loved.”
She said she found the manner of her husband’s death particularly difficult to come to terms with as she and her children were robbed of any chance to say goodbye which was particularly “hard and cruel.”
“For such a good, caring man to be left on the road to die alone and that the driver left the scene seemingly without any compassion or concern is very difficult for us to comprehend,” she added.
Judge Seán Ó Donnabháin said he had encountered her husband professionally when he came to court and gave expert evidence.
He said he found him to be exemplary in his professionalism and a man of great compassion for his patients and, unlike others who retreated into ego when challenged, he always did his very best for those he was treating.
Pleading for leniency, Mr O’Sullivan his client was not charged with any dangerous driving offence in relation to Dr Lawlor’s death but with leaving the scene of an occurrence and related charges.
He said his client had panicked and driven off to collect another fare. He pointed out he had no previous convictions, was deeply remorseful and had given up driving completely since the incident.
The judge said he didn’t accept the defendant’s claim that he panicked as he went on to collect another fare after hitting Dr Lawlor, and when he removed the panic element, all that was left was callousness.
He said what McSweeney had done in driving off after hitting Dr Lawlor was “fundamentally wrong” and the court had to mark the seriousness of the offence of leaving the scene with a custodial sentence.
He sentenced McSweeney to five years in jail but suspended the final year in light of his guilty plea, previous good record and remorse as well as his age.