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Learner driver whose pal died in smash avoids jail

A 19-year-old Newry man who killed his best friend in a crash when he took his father's car “for a spin” has avoided jail.

A judge suspended an 18-month detention term on Patrick O'Hanlon of Leitrim Road in Hilltown for three years yesterday.

He said the death of Ciaran McAleenon had a “profound effect” on O'Hanlon.

O'Hanlon was banned from driving for five years after pleading guilty to a number of motoring offences.

Judge Geoffrey Miller QC told Newry Crown Court sitting in Belfast that he believed O'Hanlon's “impeccable” background and his remorse, guilt and trauma amounted to “exceptional circumstances”.

He told O'Hanlon that the death of Mr McAleenon had devastated his family and friends.

The judge said the teenager would have to “live with the consequences” of his actions for the rest of his life.

O'Hanlon had pleaded guilty to aggravated vehicle-taking without the owner's consent causing death and grievous bodily injury, and driving without insurance on January 11 last year.

An earlier court heard that O'Hanlon was only a learner driver when, in the company of two friends, he decided to take his father's Peugeot 306 car “for a spin”.

The car mounted a grass verge on the Sandbank Road near his home and he lost control, with the car ending up on its roof in a field. All three boys were thrown from it as they were not wearing seatbelts.

Ciaran McAleenon died later in hospital from the head and neck injuries he received. O'Hanlon's other friend, Stephen Kelly, also had to be treated for “severe injuries”.

O'Hanlon himself was badly hurt in the crash and spent the next four months in hospital receiving treatment for his head, neck and chest injuries.

At the time of the fatal crash, O'Hanlon had only taken three driving lessons.

He was on learner plates and had only ever driven a tractor before.

Judge Miller said his lack of driving experience, aligned with him driving at too fast a speed for his capabilities on a very dark, wintry night caused the fatal accident.

Relatives of Mr McAleenon wept in court as the judge recounted extracts of their “moving” tributes to him.

Judge Miller said he wanted to “repeat and underline what's been stated on, sadly, too many occasions... that no penalty can measure or put back in place what has been so tragically taken away”.

Belfast Telegraph

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