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Dublin: 14 °C Tuesday 24 September, 2019
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Banned driver who left student with 'catastrophic' brain injury jailed for eight years

Paul Connolly was under the influence of drugs and driving his young child to school when his car mounted the footpath.

Image: Rollingnews.ie

A KILDARE MAN who left two pedestrians seriously injured when he drove onto a busy footpath before “calmly” leaving the scene has been given an eight and a half year sentence.

Paul Connolly (37) was under the influence of drugs and driving his young child to school when his car mounted the footpath, leaving one young law student with a “catastrophic” brain injury.

Connolly, of Cregg Court, Kilmeague, Robertstown, Co Kildare, has 215 previous convictions including 14 for dangerous driving and three for hit-and-runs. He admitted to taking cocaine and tablets the night before.

He was on a 25-year driving ban at the time and had been released from prison a month earlier.

Connolly pleaded guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to dangerous driving causing serious bodily harm to Mr Igoe and Mr Dhala at Coolmine Road, Coolmine on 1 May 2018.

He also pleaded guilty to driving under the influence of drugs; possession of cannabis; failing to remain at the scene; failing to offer assistance; failing to alert gardaí; as well as driving without insurance or a driving licence on the same occasion.

Judge Melanie Greally suspended the final 18 months of the sentence today, giving Connolly credit for his guilty plea, his remorse and his limited cooperation. She said she also took into account Connolly’s long-standing addiction issues.

At a previous hearing, the court heard how Connolly “undertook” a line of traffic stopped at a railway barrier, before suddenly swerving onto the pavement where he first hit Michael Igoe (54) and continued driving to hit student Francis Dhala (19), causing him “catastrophic” injuries.

Witnesses described him going back onto the road, doing a U-turn and driving “calmly” from the scene with a smashed windscreen. He was followed by a driving instructor who kept in touch with gardaí until they were able to intercept him.

‘Considerable distress’

The court heard Connolly told initially gardaí he thought he had hit “a bush.” He later said he had taken his eyes off the road for a second and didn’t know he had hit anyone.

Igoe sustained a badly-fractured ankle, bruising, torn shoulder muscles and concussion from bang to his head. He underwent surgery and the insertion of plates and screws in his ankle. He continues to have a limp.

Judge Greally noted that Igoe’s victim impact report was “very understated” but said he had no doubt experienced a significant deterioration in his health and well-being.

Dhala suffered a severe and traumatic brain injury and underwent multiple surgeries, spending over three months in hospital. He is currently spending weekdays at the National Rehabilitation Centre in Dún Laoghaire.

The court heard Dhala has done well since the accident but suffers ongoing issues such as cognitive defects and short-term memory problems. He has recently regained the ability to speak, eat and drink normally but is not expected to return to his full previous level of cognitive functioning.

Judge Greally said this had serious future consequences for Dhala who was studying law and attended court in a wheelchair with his family.

She wished both Igoe and Dhala a full recovery and said that she hoped Francis Dhala continues with his chosen career in law, adding “perhaps one day we will see him in this building.”

The judge also noted the serious trauma caused to Dhala’s family, particularly his sister Grace who was with him at the time, and the fact that the family was told multiple times that Francis was in danger of dying or of remaining in a vegetative state.

She said the family was in need of ongoing psychological support and had incurred hospital bills of over €100,000.

Defence counsel, Martin O’Rourke SC, handed in a letter of apology from Connolly and a psychological report into court.

He said Connolly admitted taking cocaine and self-medicating with street benzodiazepine as he had been on anti-depressants but could no longer afford them. He said his client had a difficult family background and started drinking as a 14-year-old, with most of his convictions being drink-related.

Judge Greally said there were “extreme’ aggravating factors in the case, including the “inherent danger” of passing a line of cars on the inside, then mounting a footpath exposing numerous pedestrians to danger, added to the fact that Connolly then accelerated along the path.

She also listed the fact that Connolly left the scene, was intoxicated at the time, and was driving his own daughter who was described by witnesses as in a state of “considerable distress”.

The eight-and-a-half-year sentence was backdated to 1 May last year. Connolly was ordered to be of good behaviour and abide by the supervision of the Probation Services for 18 months on his release.

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Fiona Ferguson

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