A man charged with the manslaughter of Ballymena man Owen McKeown in Kilrea last weekend put his own life in danger trying to rescue him, a court has heard.
Mr McKeown (21) from the Dunclug estate went into the water close to the Bann Road Bridge in Kilrea on Saturday. His body was recovered from the river on Sunday afternoon.
Appearing at North Antrim Magistrates’ Court on Friday was 26-year-old Darren Joseph Casey of Millfield in Ballymena.
In addition to the manslaughter charge, Casey faces two charges of supplying a class ‘C’ drug and possession of a class ‘C’ drug. He was denied bail.
Casey, who had spent some time in Holywell Hospital last week due to his deteriorating mental state, appeared in the dock wearing a navy jumper and jogging bottoms.
His defence barrister, Eoghan Devlin, told the court that he did not accept there was sufficient evidence to connect his client to the charge. However, after listening to the evidence, District Judge, Richard Wilson ruled that the charges should stand.
A detective constable told the court that on Saturday, May 5 police received reports of a male in difficulties in the River Bann at Kilrea. A search was launched at 6pm.
Later, at 10.30pm, the defendant and his father attended Coleraine PSNI station where Casey admitted being in an altercation with Mr McKeown earlier that day.
During police interviews Casey said that he had met with Mr McKeown, along with two others, at a laneway in Kilrea. Casey admitted supplying Mr McKeown with steroids, and after an altercation in which Mr Casey had been injured himself, the deceased ran off before jumping into the river.
During cross examination the detective constable accepted that Casey had made attempts to rescue Mr McKeown from the river, taking off his clothes and jumping in himself, before having to be rescued by two other men.
He confirmed that there were four canoeists in the river at the time, who did not make any attempts to help the deceased. The officer also said that three of the four canoeists recalled Casey shouting at the deceased, ‘You have proved your point, now get out.”
During the hearing, a crown prosecutor said that there was evidence to suggest that Mr McKeown was lured to the location to be assaulted and that he was in such fear of his life he jumped into the water.
Defence barrister, Mr Devlin, told the court that he didn’t believe there was sufficient evidence to connect his client to a manslaughter charge. “He [Casey] shouts at others at the scene for help, then he jumps in himself, he himself is then rescued,” said the barrister.
Outlining police objections to bail, the detective constable said that there was a risk the defendant may reoffend and interfere with witnesses. He said Casey was on bail for other offences at the time of the incident and had failed to turn up for a court appearance in 2009.
However Mr Devlin said that two other men had been given police bail, despite the fact one of them was already on bail on a grievious bodily harm charge.
He said there was nothing to suggest that Casey would interfere with witnesses as the witnesses he did know corroborated his account of events.
Mr Devlin said that should the accused be given bail, he would live with father who has no criminal record.
Referring to Casey’s state of mind, the barrister added:” His mental health deteriorated during the police interviews as a result of what he witnessed on the river bank. He has a realistic, workable, creditable defence, so I can see no reason why he cannot be released on bail?”
District Judge, Richard Wilson, refused bail on the grounds the defendant could interfere with witnesses.
Casey will re-appear at the same court via video link on Monday, May 28.