Belfast Telegraph

Bodybuilder jailed over River Bann death

By Michael Donnelly

A bodybuilder wept in court as he was jailed over the death of a man who drowned in a river.

Antrim Crown Court Judge Gordon Kerr QC told 26-year-old Darren Joseph Casey his was a "highly exceptional case" and that the death of 21-year-old Ballymena man Owen Gerard McKeown "was the tragic result of his own decision" to jump into the River Bann.

Casey, from Claragh Hill Grange, Kilrea, who admitted the manslaughter of Mr McKeown on May 5, 2012, was sentenced to 15 months.

While Casey will serve half of his sentence in prison with the remainder on licensed parole, because of time already served he should be due for release next month.

In his sentencing remarks Judge Kerr said: "On those facts the defendant was struck by Owen McKeown... the defendant reacted... and in so doing, accepts he overreacted... even so, the evidence shows that any injuries he caused were medically insignificant and would have played no part in the death of the deceased.

"Death was the result of Mr McKeown running, no doubt in fear of further assault, and then jumping into the river," added Judge Kerr.

Earlier this month prosecuting QC Terence Mooney told the court that Casey had stripped off and jumped into the river after McKeown to try and save his life.

Defence QC Martin O'Rourke said it was a tragic and unfortunate case, in which a remorseful Casey had put his own life in danger. Mr O'Rourke said Casey accepted his assault on Mr McKeown went beyond self-defence, giving rise to the unlawful act leading to his death.

Mr Mooney had told the court Mr McKeown, who had travelled to Kilrea from his Dunclug estate home in Ballymena with two others, collected Casey, before going to the River Bann near the Agivey Road, Patterson's Lane area, a well-known drinking spot for young men.

However, they were not there for drink, but to collect steriod drugs which both Casey and McKeown used as part of their bodybuilding regime. As they were climbing over a fence, Mr McKeown struck Casey, who punched him to the ground, where he continued his attack.

Mr Mooney said a group of canoeists heard voices coming from the river bank, and initially thought they might come under attack, but then saw a fully clothed man jump into the river.

"He swam out from the bank, and then disappeared under the water. Another male then stripped off his clothing and also entered the water in an apparent attempt to rescue the first male," said Mr Mooney.

A post-mortem report on Mr McKeown, whose cause of death was drowning, also indicated that he may well have been under the influence of drugs at the time. Casey had followed Mr McKeown into the river "in an attempt to redeem the situation".

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