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Man whose dangerous driving left friend in vegetative state jailed for 40 months

Mark Kelly sustained serious injuries in the crash and has not regained consciousness.

Image: Leah Farrell/RollingNews.ie

A MAN WHOSE dangerous driving led to a road accident which left his friend in a vegetative state with “devastating” injuries has been jailed for 40 months.

John Dowling (23) was slightly over the drink-driving limit after leaving a pub where he had been celebrating his 21st birthday with friends in 2017.

While driving home he exceeded the speed limit when overtaking another vehicle, hit the kerb and lost control of the car, hitting a tree and wall.

The main impact was on the passenger side of the car where his friend Mark Kelly was sitting. Kelly sustained serious injuries, has not regained consciousness and remains in a vegetative state.

Dowling, of Ros Airgih, Liscarra, Carrick On Shannon, Co Leitrim pleaded guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to dangerous driving causing serious bodily harm to Kelly at Drynam Road, Swords on 19 August 2017.

He has two previous convictions, one for drink driving in this case for which he received a six-month driving ban, and a prior conviction for driving without insurance.

Judge Martin Nolan said this was a tragic case in which Kelly had sustained very serious injuries from which he will not recover greatly. He noted Kelly’s family had been devastated by what had occurred and they blamed Dowling for his actions on the night.

“No matter what happens, there is no recovery for this young man and this is an ongoing source of severe trauma for the family,” said Judge Nolan. 

It is a tragedy for this family, a tragedy for everyone involved.

Judge Nolan said dangerous driving was an “elastic” offence ranging from the mundane to the very serious. “All drivers are capable of the act of dangerous driving by inattention,”  he said.

He said what the court punishes are the aggravating factors – the intentional behaviour on the part of a defendant which lessens their ability to control the car.

The judge said Dowling had been over the drink-driving limit, there were indications of excessive speed and a further slightly aggravating factor was the lack of insurance on the date.

He noted in mitigation that Dowling had pleaded guilty, co-operated with gardaí, made useful admissions and did not have a serious record of conviction. He said Dowling was well capable of reform and chances are he would not re-offend to this degree in the future.

He said he had no doubt Dowling was remorseful and was a man of conscience but said it was a “serious misjudgement” and he must impose a custodial sentence.

Judge Nolan set a headline sentence of five to six years for the offence and, taking into account the mitigating factors, imposed a sentence of 40 months. The maximum sentence is 10 years.

Victim impact statements from Kelly’s family were handed into the judge.

Good friends 

Garda Daniel Rogers told Diarmuid Collins BL, prosecuting, that Dowling, his girlfriend, Kelly and a third friend had been at a pub that night. Staff at the pub estimated that the group had three drink each during the evening. They said the group had been sipping rather than drinking fast.

Dowling dropped his girlfriend home before continuing driving with his two friends. He told gardaí he overtook a vehicle, driving at what he estimated to be 80kmph. He said he took a corner too fast and struck the kerb before the collision

A collision investigator’s report found the accident was most likely caused by over-steering after driving too fast around the corner. It said if the driver was travelling within the 50kmph speed limit he could have safely manoeuvred through the bend.

The report outlined that the driver and rear passenger seat belts were in the “worn position” but the front seat passenger, where Kelly was sitting, was in an unlocked position.

The report found that due to the nature of the collision, similar injuries may have occurred even if the passenger had been wearing a seat belt. Dowling told gardaí he felt that Kelly would have been wearing a seatbelt.

Garda Rogers agreed with Dominic McGinn SC, defending, that Dowling and Kelly had been good friends, and that Dowling’s immediate concern at the scene was for Kelly.

The garda agreed that as a result of this incident the group of friends had been “riven.” He agreed the group had been celebrating Dowling’s 21st that night but were not drinking heavily.

McGinn said the offence had had a profound effect on Dowling’s life. He said his personality had completely changed and part of that was not being able to apologise in a meaningful way to his friend. He handed in a letter Dowling had written.

He said Dowling had never been to prison before but recognised this was almost inevitable. He asked the court to take into account his client’s previous good character and genuine remorse.

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Fiona Ferguson

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