A Coleraine woman who admitted causing the death of a motorcyclist by careless driving has escaped jail after a judge described the case as “the saddest I have ever come across”.
Outside court, the family of the late Eamon Farrelly, 42, issued an impassioned plea for drivers to be aware of their surroundings, and especially to watch out for motorcyclists on the road.
Antrim Crown Court heard that on the afternoon of July 8, 2013, Mr Farrelly, from Belfast, had been on his way to meet his wife and family before embarking on a few days away together, while Katriona Kearney, 27, of Westbourne Crescent in Coleraine, her partner and two children, were on their way home from a day out at Belfast Zoo.
Mr Farrelly died from chest injuries he received in the three-vehicle collision involving his Yamaha motorbike, a Scania lorry and Kearney’s Vauxhall Zafira car at the Dunsilly off-slip on the northbound lane of the M2 motorway just after 2pm.
A barrister for the prosecution said that all vehicles were “well maintained”, that no defects were reported, and that police were satisfied that Kearney’s mobile phone “was not being used at the time of the accident”.
She said that the Zafira was estimated to have been doing between 5-10mph at the time of the collision and that the bike had been travelling very slowly, or had stopped. Both were on the inside lane of the offslip and Kearney was said to have moved off when she saw the deceased man’s brake light go out and checked to her right and saw that the road was clear.
The lorry, the lawyer said, had been in the middle lane and had come on to the roundabout when Kearney’s car made impact with the rear of Mr Farrelly’s motorcycle, which he ‘rolled off’, and the lorry driver reported feeling an impact at the side of his vehicle.
The prosecution accepted that the culpability of the defendant “would have to be described as very low” and that there were no aggravating features like mobile phone use, drink or speeding.
The barrister said that Mr Farrelly’s death had been “felt substantially” by his wife and young daughter especially.
Kearney shook and wept throughout the hearing, often sitting with her head in her hands or with her hands covering her ears as details of the case were read out.
Saying that the accident “happened in one twinkling of an eye, on what was an otherwise normal Monday”, her defence barrister said that in his 40 years at the bar in Northern Ireland, he had never come across or acted for a client “so consumed by guilt and grief”.
However, he said that her distress “was nothing compared to that of Mr Farrelly’s family”.
He said that on any other day the collision “would have resulted in no more than an exchange of insurance details and a bit of annoyance”.
The defence barrister said that Kearney was a ‘nervous’ driver after two road traffic incidents in the two years previous to the accident, which he stressed were not her fault. He said that Kearney, who had a clear record, had suffered from depression, which had been exacerbated by the accident.
Judge Desmond Marrinan branded the fatal incident as “the saddest case I have ever come across”, and added: “A momentary lack of attention has lead to this dreadful and horrible tragedy.”
Judge Marrinan said it would be “cruel” to impose anything other than a community order for “an unfortunate young woman who will have to live with this for the rest of her life”.
He sentenced Kearney to 60 hours of community service for 12 months and banned her from driving for 12 months, but said that he would make an order that she would not have to re-sit her driving test, to which Mr Farrelly’s wife shook her head.