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Unaccompanied learner driver sentenced to nine months for hitting and killing teenager while speeding

Gareth Jones hit 16-year-old Paul McCormack while driving a Toyota Avensis unaccompanied in Finglas, Dublin, in June 2015.

SCC R Woffenden 2 Source: Richard Woffenden

AN UNACCOMPANIED LEARNER driver who was speeding when he hit and killed a teenager has been jailed for nine months.

22-year-old Gareth Jones swerved to avoid three of the boy’s friends as they crossed the road but hit Paul McCormack, 16, who had changed direction to try and get back to the path.

Dublin Circuit Criminal Court heard there was a fault with the ABS braking system in his Toyota Avensis but that there was no indication Jones was aware of this. The car had a valid NCT at the time.

Today Michael Bowman SC, defending, told the court that the victim’s mother, Valerie Hyland had presented Jones with a letter prior to the hearing. He said the letter communicated an extraordinary degree of understanding and forgiveness.

Mr Bowman said the letter displayed magnanimity and humanity in wishing Jones well with his life and that she would include Jones in her prayers.

He said the moment had been considerably emotional and said there was no enmity between the families. He said the events had been a tragedy for all concerned.

Jones, of Mellowes Park, Finglas, Dublin pleaded guilty to careless driving causing the death of Paul McCormack at Tolka Valley Road, Finglas on 26 June 2015. He has two minor previous convictions.

Collision

The court heard Jones told gardaí he was doing 70 to 80 km/h in the area which had a speed limit of 50 km/h. After the collision Jones remained at the scene, accepted responsibility and called an ambulance.

The maximum term of imprisonment for this offence is two years.

Judge Melanie Greally said she had come to a very difficult decision given Jones youth and the state of relations between him and Paul’s family. She said the court had wider considerations but noted Paul’s mother’s magnanimity and understanding.

Judge Greally said Jones had been driving in excess of the speed limit and had been undeterred by speed ramps. She said he failed to moderate his speed when he became aware of the group crossing the road and only applied emergency braking at the last minute. She said he displayed a “catastrophic lack of judgement”.

She said as Jones swerved to the right to avoid the group, Paul had moved into the path of the car and suffered fatal head injuries when his head hit the windscreen. She said Jones’ driving had been “careless in the extreme”.

Judge Greally noted he held a learner’s licence and said the requirement to be accompanied by a fully qualified driver was there for a purpose and if he had been accompanied the outcome may have been different.

She noted that Jones had remained at the scene, called an ambulance and made admissions to gardaí. She said he had shown concern for the injured party and shown remorse.

Victim impact

She said the victim impact statement from the McCormack family had been deeply moving and expressed the pain of living without their son. She noted Paul’s life had been “full of fun, vitality and promise”.

Paul’s mother, Valerie Hyland, had written a letter on behalf of the family in which she outlined how the collision had ripped the family apart and left their home silent and empty. She recalled the happiness Paul had given his family and said the accident had turned their life upside down.

She said the pain had gotten worse as time went on and they still waited for him to come back.

She described memories of her son “chilling on the sofa”, coming home from school and talking with friends and neighbours. She said his absence had left “a void that cannot be filled”.

Judge Greally noted Jones came from a decent, supportive and pro-social family and that he had been deeply affected in the aftermath of the offence. A probation report put him at low risk of re-offending.

She said she had to take into account the general deterrent factor of the sentence imposed and did not think a community-based sanction would have the necessary deterrent effect.

She imposed a nine month sentence and disqualified Jones from driving for five years. She expressed her condolences to the McCormack family.

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