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'My Brendan was killed by a drunk driver - it left a desperate void in our lives'

Christina Donnelly has been campaigning for stronger road safety laws and sentencing since the death of her son and his friend in 2009.

ON 26 OCTOBER 2009, Brendan Donnelly was on his way to Cork Airport with friends to catch a flight to Amsterdam for a short break.

At 2.40am that morning, their car was struck head-on by another car which was travelling on the wrong side of the road. Brendan and his friend Lee Salkeld were both killed instantly.

Lee and Brendan who were both killed in the crash in 2009.

The driver of the car, a 29-year-old called Anthony Long, fled the scene. He later admitted he was involved in the crash, having been drinking since 3pm the previous day.

He had consumed 11 cans and bottles of beer, plus another seven pints, two vodkas and three shots of After Shock. Long had also done a line of cocaine. He then got into his car to drive home.

He was jailed for five years, with a 15 year driving ban, but was released after three years and six months.

The man responsible for the deaths of Brendan and Lee is free, but the pain of losing them remains for their loved ones. Brendan’s heartbroken mother Christina has been campaigning for years for an improvement in road safety legislation.

In particular, she has been pushing ‘Brendan’s Law’, which would stop anyone charged with drink driving from getting behind the wheel while they await trial.

A desperate void

Christina’s determination to make this happen was sparked by pictures she saw of Anthony Long, not long after her son had been killed, getting into a BMV outside his home.

“I couldn’t understand how someone so many times over the legal limit and on cocaine, and charged in a garda station was free to drive again,” she told TheJournal.ie.

Brendan left a desperate void in our lives. My heart is broken as a mother, absolutely broken. I remember saying to someone recently that I wish I was numb again, with the numbness in the first year or so, the reality hadn’t kicked in.
It’s been harder in the last few weeks in particular, I have been rock bottom. The pain in my stomach is absolutely unbelievable for Brendan.

As she spoke, she said she was sitting looking at photos of her son.

“They go up to the age of 24 and they don’t go any further. That’s one of the saddest things,” she said.

Christina still talks to her son every day, she hugs his t-shirts at night before she goes to sleep, she keeps his hair gel on her bedside locker because she is terrified she will forget his smell.

“My Brendan, he was my youngest son. He was the kindest, most humble, loving son and a wonderful brother. It’s not a cliché, anybody who knew him would say he had a heart of gold. He would go to the moon and back for you,” she said.

Brendan’s Law

She said she sometimes wonders now how Anthony Long feels about the lives he destroyed.

Does he ever think about the boys? I’ve often wondered – does he feel any grief? Does he have any idea how we feel? Not with any vengeance or with malice, but I want to know did it change his attitude to drink driving. Did what happened that night change his life too?

It has become Christina’s life’s mission to push legislators to recognise and implement ‘Brendan’s Law’. In December, independent TD John Halligan, who she said has been a great supporter of her campaign, brought the issue up in the Dáil during Leaders’ Questions.

Christina later met with the Taoiseach who has supported the proposals being considered under an upcoming review of road safety laws.

As well as the automatic suspension of drivers in fatal crashes who fail breath tests, the law would see them serve six years in jail with no concessions for good behaviour. They would also face a 25 year driving ban.

Christina said she is due to speak to the Dáil’s Transport Committee but that will now have to wait until after the election, when a new government is formed.

She said she wanted to urge people to think about their actions and never get behind the wheel after drinking alcohol or taking drugs.

“I know that Brendan, if the situation had been reversed and it had been me or his brother, he would have gone through brick walls to do the same thing.”

More information on Christina’s campaign can be found on the Brendan’s Law Facebook page. 

Read: Community in anger after suspected drink-driver kills Dublin woman>

Healy Rae on drink driving: ‘If a person goes out and has a little drink, they’re hurting no one’>

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