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Successful appeal by drunk, dangerous driver sent to jail for killing a woman and paralysing another

His seven-year sentence looks set to be reduced.

A SEVEN-YEAR sentence imposed on a man who was four times over the limit when he crashed his BMW into a roundabout killing a woman and paralysing her friend was “out of line” with other sentences for dangerous driving, the Court of Appeal has found.

Sean Casey (27), of Cooragannive, Skibbereen, Co Cork, had pleaded guilty to dangerous driving causing the death of Megan Johnston (22) and causing serious bodily harm to Kate Petford (24) who was left paralysed following the crash at Skibbereen on 8 April 2013.

He was sentenced at Cork Circuit Criminal Court to seven years imprisonment and disqualified from driving for 30 years by Judge Seán Ó Donnabháin on 17 February 2014.

Error by judge

Speaking on behalf of the three-judge Court of Appeal yesterday Mr Justice Garrett Sheehan said Casey’s sentence was “out of line with other decided cases”.

Mr Justice Sheehan said the sentencing judge “erred in holding that this was at the absolute apex” of the dangerous driving scale, as had been submitted by Casey’s barrister Thomas Creed SC.

Although “no two cases are the same”, the court considered eight dangerous driving cases which had reached an appeal court. In all but two of the eight cases, sentences of below five years were imposed.

Mr Justice Sheehan said the court wished to give careful consideration to the question of imposing a new sentence and the matter was put back to 19 October.


Mr Creed submitted an up-to-date victim impact report from the parents of Ms Johnston.

“They feel Sean Casey has served enough time in prison to make amends for what he did,” Mr Creed said.

Mr Justice Sheehan said the generosity of spirit displayed by Ms Petford in such adversity was “a lesson to us all”.

The court did not take up the DPP’s invitation to set guidelines on dangerous driving cases in this particular case.

Jail time

Moving to appeal his sentence last month, Mr Creed said his client always knew, “almost out of a sense of atonement”, that he was going to get a custodial sentence.

However, the sentencing judge put this case at “the very apex” of dangerous driving causing death cases and completely ignored the possibility for rehabilitation, Mr Creed said.

There was no evidence that Casey’s silver BMW was a ‘big powerful’ car, Mr Creed said. It may have been one of the least powerful BMWs available and the same results could have been brought about in a one-litre Ford Focus.

There had been reference to Casey being five times over the limit, Mr Creed said. It was accepted Casey was 4.1 times over the legal limit.

Victim’s loss

Mr Creed said the whole court had been influenced by a very touching and very sad victim impact report from Ms Petford, who was left paralysed following the incident.

It was a palpably sad occasion and the judge seemed to put the case far higher up the scale than he would in a situation less fraught.

The judge seemed to have been influenced by such matters, Mr Creed said.

Ms Petford had written:

My greatest loss has been the death of my best friend, Megan Johnston who tragically lost her life in the same accident – the loss of my friend at such an early stage is a tragedy and a sadness with which I must live.
Despite the loss of my spontaneity and independence and the catastrophic impact of this accident on so many aspects of my life, I am at least fortunate to have survived and am so much more fortunate than my beloved friend, Meg who has been lost forever.
Perhaps my greatest regret, apart of course from the death of my beloved friends is that the tragic events and tragic consequences of the road traffic accident were entirely avoidable and arose by reason of dangerous and irresponsible driving by the defendant.”

Drunk driving

Counsel for the Director of Public Prosecutions, Lorcan Staines BL, said the devastating consequences that were visited on both families were forseeable and “unfortunately” they fell at the feet of Casey in this case.

Mr Staines said a very large amount of alcohol had been consumed and more people than were legally allowed – five – were in the car at the time.

Mr Staines said the vehicle was travelling at significant speed coming into a roundabout. Evidence was given that the safe speed to approach a roundabout was 34 – 42 kmph. Casey was travelling at 80kmph.

It seemed to be an automatic consequence that there would be a very serious collision travelling at that speed, Mr Staines said.

Other people had said Casey was at a stage of drunkenness that would not enable him to drive, Mr Staines said. The car keys came back to him because of a friend’s representations to the barmaid who had taken them.

Furthermore, Casey was experienced with vehicles because of his job. The family business was plant hire, the court heard.

He said dangerous driving causing death cases were difficult to balance because they were not the result of intended actions.

It had been “very, very clearly signposted” by the State, Oireachtas and Road Safety Authority that these were actions which cannot be condoned.

The DPP maintained that there was no demonstrated error in principle and it was open to the trial judge to do what he did, Mr Staines said.

More: Former Defence Forces member guilty of manslaughter of woman who was blackmailing him

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