A Londonderry man finally showed remorse for causing the deaths of five young people in a road accident as he broke down in tears in court.
Brendan Henderson (50) sat in a wheelchair in the courtroom in Letterkenny as he faced the families of those he admitted killing in a horrific crash over three years ago.
Relatives of the deceased had complained that Henderson of Seven Oaks, Waterside, had shown no remorse in the three-and-a-half years since their loved ones had died.
But Henderson yesterday wept as he told them: “I am not a monster. I am not a bad man.”
Henderson was jailed for four years at Letterkenny Circuit Court where he pleaded guilty to dangerous driving causing the deaths of David Steele (23), Rochelle Peoples (22), Gavin Duffy (21), Charlene O'Connor (21) and Darren Quinn (21) near Quigley's Point, Co Donegal, on October 8, 2005.
The court heard how psychiatric nurse Henderson drank pints of lager for at least seven hours at a charity function. He then drove alone in his Mazda Premacy people carrier 14 miles in 15 minutes at 3am before colliding with the young people’s Peugeot 306.
They were pronounced dead at the scene and Henderson was the sole survivor.
David Steele owned the Peugeot 306 but, because he had had a few drinks, he handed his keys to Gavin Duffy to drive when leaving a disco, Judge John O’Hagan was told. Charlene was Gavin’s girlfriend and Rochelle was David’s girlfriend. Darren and Gavin were cousins.
Garda Superintendent James Coen said all the evidence showed Gavin drove “perfectly” as he overtook a taxi within the speed limit on a broken white line.
The collision was entirely on the Peugeot’s side of the road. Henderson’s vehicle was travelling in the opposite direction at between 93 and 111km/h while the Peugeot was travelling at between 70 and 80kmh.
The speed limit was 80 kmh. All Henderson remembered was being at the hotel in Ballyliffin at around 7pm. He started drinking at 6.30pm and asked his wife for the key to their room in the hotel at around 1.30am.
For reasons the investigation had been unable to establish Henderson then drove off from the hotel at 3am. The crash happened 15 minutes later.
Medical reports showed Henderson had two-and-a-half times the legal level of alcohol in his system. He nearly died on the operating table three times and had to be resuscitated four times.
Victims: (from left) David Steele, Rochelle Peoples, Darren Quinn, Gavin Duffy and Charlene O’Connor all died tragically in a car crash caused by Henderson in 2005
“It’s a miracle that he is alive”, said his counsel Colm Smyth, SC.
In a victim impact report Annette Duffy, Gavin’s mother, said: “When Gavin died part of the family died with him.
“When we think of him it is always of him laughing and smiling. These memories are what get us through the day.”
She added: “Gavin did not get the second chance Henderson has got.”
Darren Quinn’s father Patrick said: “It’s a night we will never forget for the rest of our lives, everything changed that night.”
Kathleen Steele, David Steele’s aunt, said: “His relationship with Rochelle had made his life complete. His death has left such a void in all of our lives.
“We miss his coming and going and his presence at the table and his texts. There are no more calls, no more texts.” Ann Friel, aunt of Rochelle Peoples, said: “She was very happy in her relationship with her boyfriend David.
“She was a free spirit and we miss her every single day of our lives.”
William O’Connor, Charlene’s brother, said: “On the 8th of October 2005 Charlene and four friends met Brendan Henderson, a man who sat behind his wheel drunk with no consideration for other road users his plea of guilty after three-and-a-half years has not saved us any grief. We have seen no remorse from Henderson or his family.”
Henderson said he was genuinely sorry.
“I accept full responsibility”, he said.
“Yes, I was in that car when I shouldn’t have been.”
It had always been his intention to plead guilty at the earliest opportunity, he added.
Judge O’Hagan took into consideration his genuine remorse and guilty plea and sentenced Henderson to four years in prison.
He paid tribute to Gavin Duffy’s driving and said he was “in no way” to blame for the accident.
Henderson was also banned from driving for 15 years.