Belfast Telegraph

Drink driver jailed for killing mother as she walked home from Co Down pub

By Paul Higgins

A drink driver who was more than three times over the limit when he killed a mother-of-one in Co Down wept in court as he was jailed for four years.

However after hearing that 28-year-old Hugh Torney will only serve half that sentence in jail, his victim's shell shocked family lambasted the sentence as "stupid".

Outside Downpatrick Crown Court Martin McKenna, whose 26-year-old sister Danielle was tragically killed as she walked home from the pub, said he was almost speechless at the lenient sentence.

Looking numb, Mr McKenna said: "What can I say, it's not long enough. It's stupid. I'm lost for words. The judge might as well give him a bottle of vodka and car keys."

On the morning his trial was due to start last month, Torney, from the Upper Ballygelagh Road in Ardkeen, Kircubbin pleaded guilty to causing the death of Danielle McKenna by careless driving with excess alcohol, drink driving and leaving the scene of an accident.

As he sat in the dock, head bowed and constantly wiping away tears, Judge Piers Grant told Torney it was clear "that you will carry a considerable burden for the rest of your life".

He added it was also clear that Miss McKenna's family had suffered an "enormous loss" as a result of the tragic accident on 9 June 2012, describing their victim impact statement as "very moving, courageous and remarkably devoid of any bitterness" but that Torney's denial of any wrongdoing until the last moment had also "greatly affected" them.

 "I recognise, as all courts should, no sentence imposed will ever bring this young woman back to her friends, back to life or back to her son and relatives and will do very little to repair the upset and grief suffered by them," said the judge.

Miss McKenna's father was visibly upset as the judge recounted how his daughter had been drinking with her boyfriend and his sister in Finnegans Bar while Torney, who had gone to school with her when they were children, was drinking in the Mermaid Bar, both in Kircubbin before he got a taxi home.

But at home Torney got a phonecall about a party and despite being drunk, decided to get behind the wheel of his Volkswagen Bora car. It was as he drove along the Rowreagh Road that he struck 26-year-old mother-of-one Miss McKenna.

Despite her boyfriend trying to persuade her otherwise, she had decided to walk home.

Miss McKenna was mown down and killed, with Torney callously driving on.

Within a short time however he returned to the scene and told her distraught boyfriend "I've hit her, I've hit her - I'm going to jail".

Miss McKenna was found lying dead in the hedgerow.

On Monday Judge Grant cited expert reports which said Torney had been travelling "at no less than 40mph" along the unlit country road. Despite Danielle wearing black, non reflective clothing, an ambulance had managed to get around her safely just minutes before the fatal impact.

A breathalyser test at the scene gave a reading of 108 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of breath and with the limit at 35mg, Torney was "slightly in excess of three times the legal limit," said the judge.

Miss McKenna, who was a nursing assistant at the Ulster Hospital, had dreamed of joining the Army "in order to improve her life and the life of her son", the judge said.

 He told Torney that although the maximum sentence for death by careless driving was five years, there was a 14-year maximum when excess alcohol was involved with the "clear purpose to deter those who might be minded to drive" while drunk.

As well as the four year jail sentence, Torney was banned from driving for five years.

As he announced the sentence, a male relative of Danielle stormed from the court saying it was a "f****** disgrace".

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