Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 12 July 2014

Toddler crushed by runaway car in Dundonald after driver failed to fully engage handbrake, jury hears

Defendant Darren Conway admits causing the death of Rham Gavriel Alvarez (2) by careless driving

Flowers left at the scene on the Comber Road after two-year-old Rham Gavriel Alvarez  was killed by a runaway car in Dundonald in 2012. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Flowers left at the scene on the Comber Road after two-year-old Rham Gavriel Alvarez was killed by a runaway car in Dundonald in 2012. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker

A two-year-old toddler was crushed to death because a driver did not fully engage his handbrake, a jury heard.

Darren Conway's trial had began at Downpatrick Crown Court, but after the prosecution opening, defence lawyer Chris Holmes asked for the charge to be put to him again and the 32-year-old admitted causing the death of two-year-old Rham Gavriel Alvarez by careless driving.

Judge Piers Grant told shop fitter Conway his change of heart was a "wise course of action" and that he was sure "the next-of-kin will take great comfort in the plea".

The trial had opened earlier with prosecuting lawyer Sam Magee urging the jury that despite the case surrounding the tragic death of little Rham and the emotions that would evoke, "you must not let sympathy or prejudice cloud your judgement".

The barrister recounted how Rham's mother Imelda was pushing his buggy along the Comber Road in Dundonald on a "blustery" afternoon at the end of December 2012, when Conway's Volkswagen Golf "careered" into them, wedging the pram and her between the rear bumper and a fence. The car had silently rolled backwards from the Limetree Residential Home and across the busy road and into the buggy, causing injuries to the little boy which would tragically prove fatal.

Mr Magee said it was the Crown case that by failing to fully engage the handbrake, Conway, from Rutherglen Gardens in Bangor, had made an "obviously careless mistake," which had devastating consequences.

Conway, he said, had been at the nursing home visiting his grandfather when he parked his car, smoked a cigarette and then went inside, and knew nothing of what happened until he "heard a commotion" outside.

At the scene, he told witnesses and police that he "must've forgot to put the handbrake on," but Mr Magee told the court forensic engineer Emmerson Calendar had examined his car and found that of the possible 13 "notches" of tension, Conway had raised the handbrake just two of them.

Mr Calendar, the jury heard, took the VW Golf back to the scene and parked it where Conway had "on a slight incline," reporting later that having ratcheted the handbrake up two notches, only a little force, even a "strong gust of wind would have been sufficient" to start the car rolling backwards.

Once it did that on December 29, the car rolled down the drive and "gathered momentum" before ploughing into Rham's buggy.

His mother told police that as she walked along the road, "all of a sudden and without warning a white car appeared, it came out of nowhere" and pushed both her and the pram against a fence.

"She quickly freed herself and grabbed Rham from his buggy," said Mr Magee, sadly adding it was "immediately obvious that he was seriously injured".

An off-duty doctor and a fireman tended to the little boy at the scene until paramedics arrived and rushed him to the nearby Ulster Hospital, but despite the medics best efforts, "he tragically died the next day".

Arrested and interviewed, Conway said it would have been an "automatic reaction" to put the handbrake on and that he could not understand why the car had moved.

Following his guilty plea yesterday Judge Grant disqualified Conway from driving and adjourned passing sentence until both a pre- sentence report and victim impact statement from Rham's mother have been compiled, releasing Conway on bail until next month.

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