Phone records show unaccompanied learner driver was texting at time of fatal collision in Offaly

Eric Dunne (25) pleaded guilty to a charge of dangerous driving causing the death of a 14-year-old girl.

A 14-YEAR-old girl was killed last year in Offaly after being hit by an unaccompanied learner driver who was sending text messages at the time.

A sitting of Tullamore Circuit Criminal Court today heard phone records showed that the driver, Eric Dunne, had been using his mobile phone at the time of the fatal collision on 20 March, 2020 at Erry, Clara, Co Offaly.

Dunne (25) of Bellair, Ballycumber, Co Offaly, pleaded guilty to a charge of dangerous driving causing the death of a 14-year-old girl.

The victim cannot be named under the Children’s Act following a recent judgement of the Court of Appeal which ruled a deceased child who is a victim of crime cannot be identified.

Sergeant Simon Murphy said Dunne when arrested could not remember anything about the collision but accepted that phone records showed he had been using his mobile handset at the time.

“If I could take her place I would. I’m so sorry. I wish it was me. She had her whole life ahead of her,” he told gardaí,

During a two-hour hearing, Dunne, who was comforted by his mother, sobbed constantly and shook uncontrollably as he heard the victim’s best friend and aunt outline their grief in victim impact statements.

The victim’s aunt, said the girl’s father, her brother, had been in constant pain since the collision which she believed was the result of his grief at the death of his only child.

“His heartbreak is physical. He wants his daughter back – his world,” she said.

She said seeing her niece so happy in a video taken shortly before the collision only compounded the tragedy.

The victim was described as a “laughing, chatty, sometimes precocious,” teenager who loved singing, dancing, movies and fashion as well as showing an interest in the environment and current affairs.

The court heard the victim had been out walking with her best-friend taking photos of a beautiful sunset on the Clara-Ballycumber road when she was struck by a Hyuudai Santa Fe jeep driven by Dunne at around 7.35pm. She was pronounced dead at the scene a short time later.

The court heard road conditions at the time were dry but dusk was beginning to fall.

The victim’s best friend told gardaí that she had seen a jeep with full lights coming towards them and she had stepped in from the road as the vehicle was pretty close to them.

She next saw shoes and socks on the road before finding her friend in a ditch.

In a victim impact statement, the girl said she missed her best friend every day and suffered headaches, while her schoolwork had also suffered.

“She’s my guardian angel in heaven but I want my best friend here with me,” the girl said.

The court heard Dunne had turned around his vehicle after realising that he might have hit something.

Other witnesses who arrived at the scene said Dunne was traumatised and not making any sense, while he had tried but failed to dial the emergency services. He was later treated for shock at the Midlands Regional Hospital in Tullamore.

A forensic collision report could not determine what speed Dunne was travelling at at the time of the collision but found no defects with the vehicle.

Dunne, who had failed his driving test on three occasions, passed a breath test taken at the scene.

In a statement read on his behalf by his counsel, Desmond Dockery SC, Dunne apologised to his victim’s family and said there was not a day or night that he didn’t think of his victim and pray for her relatives.

The accused said he honestly had not seen her on the road and acknowledged she would still be alive “but for my stupidity”.

He added: “I know you must hate me and I don’t blame you but I hope some day you can forgive me.” 

The court heard Dunne, who has one previous criminal conviction for failing to produce a driving licence, is due to become a father in June.

Judge Keenan Johnson adjourned sentencing in what he described as “an absolutely tragic case” until next Tuesday.

However, the judge said he wanted a message sent out “loud and clear” as a tribute to the dead girl that motorists should not use their mobile phone or send text messages when driving.

Seán McCárthaigh