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Driver who killed mother and injured infant in "micro-sleep" has sentence suspended on appeal

64-year-old Anthony Handley had pleaded guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to causing the death of a 31-year-old to her daughter in January 2014.

SCC R Woffenden 2 Source: Richard Woffenden

A MAN WHO killed a young mother and seriously injured her 15-week-old child when he hit them with his car while in “a micro-sleep” has had the balance of a two year jail term suspended on appeal.

Dublin man Anthony Handley (64), of Whitethorn Grove, Artane, had pleaded guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to dangerous driving causing the death of Olivia Dunne (31) and serious bodily harm to Éabha Dunne in Balbriggan on 17 January 2014.

Gardaí believe Handley drifted off momentarily before his off-road SUV veered from the road and hit the two victims. He had no alcohol or drugs in his system.

Sentencing Handley to two years imprisonment on 10 May 2016, Judge Patrick McCartan said he was a good man with a blameless record but he should have been alert to the fact that he was becoming tired behind the wheel.

Judge McCartan said he was imposing the two year sentence “to send out the clear message to the community that fatigue must be a phenomenon in the minds of all drivers”.

He also banned Handley from driving for ten years.

Errors in sentencing

The Court of Appeal found a number of error’s in the sentencing of Handley today. He was given a new two year jail term but had the balance suspended on conditions. His driving ban was unchanged.

Giving judgement in the three-judge court, Mr Justice Alan Mahon said Handley, who had had only four hours sleep overnight, was driving towards Balbriggan shortly after midday on the day in question when he lost control of his car and swerved across the road striking a young mother wheeling her child in a buggy.

Eyewitnesses said Handley’s car swerved suddenly across the road without braking.

Handley was unable to explain why the accident occurred. It was initially suspected that he suffered a mini-stroke and this possibility was the subject of intense medical scrutiny.

Ultimately, the medical evidence suggested otherwise and the only other rational explanation was that Handley had fallen asleep. This likely cause prompted him to plead guilty.

Ms Dunne was killed instantly and her infant daughter was significantly injured. Such were Éabha’s injuries she wasn’t expected to survive but she “defied the odds”, according to the court’s judgement.

Sadly, she will grow up never having known her mother, Justice Mahon said.

Olivia Dunne’s sister, Caroline Clinton, described how her sister was a proud and content new mother, wife and teacher, whose life was “complete”. All this came to a sudden tragic end on the day in question.

Traumatised

Ciarán Dunne lost his young wife, has been left severely traumatised, has not returned to work and cannot travel past the scene of the accident.

Handley was a father-of-three and a grandfather. He worked his entire adult life and had no previous convictions. Although separated from his wife for ten years, he moved back into the marital home to be her primary carer. She has a serious illness.

The court was anxious to emphasise that by any standard this accident was a dreadful tragedy with the most appalling consequences for the family of Olivia Dunne and her young daughter Éabha.

Mr Justice Mahon said the sentencing judge “unfairly penalised” Handley for the delay in pleading guilty, “erroneously attributed” to Handley a motivation to explore ‘the depth of a technical or other defence’, deemed his efforts to investigate the medical cause for the accident as in someway diminishing of his remorse and attached insufficient weight to the mitigating factors particularly his role as main carer for his estranged wife.

Finally, Justice Mahon said the net custodial sentence of two years was “unduly harsh”.

Justice Mahon said the possibility or suspicion that there was a medical cause for Handley’s loss of consciousness clearly exercised the minds of his doctors from day one.

A consultant in emergency medicine expressed the view that Handley may have had a seizure or cardiac arrhythmia.

Ultimately, albeit belatedly Handley accepted that he must have fallen asleep and in pleading guilty he accepted legal responsibility for having done so.

He had had, for him, a normal night’s rest, had been to the gym, was engaged in relatively short urban journeys and was not particularly aware of feeling tired.

He had gotten up at 5am that morning, had breakfast and went to the gym before dropping his daughter to a nearby location.

These were routine tasks for him and would not normally be expected to result in driver fatigue, Justice Mahon said.

Mahon, who sat with Mr Justice George Birmingham and Mr Justice John Edwards, said the court would allow the appeal.

Handley was resentenced to two years imprisonment but any unserved portion was suspended.

He was required to enter into a good behaviour bond and he undertook to be so bound. Handley then left the Criminal Courts of Justice building.

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Ruaidhrí Giblin

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