Belfast Telegraph

Jail for epileptic pensioner who stopped medication and crashed twice in week, injuring schoolboy

By Ashleigh McDonald

An epileptic pensioner who caused a horrific collision in which a six-year-old boy sustained a severe eye injury has been sent to jail for four months.

Patrick McErlean, a former councillor and chairman of Magherafelt District Council, was warned by police about driving four days before the collision after essentially blacking out behind the wheel and rear-ending another motorist.

Before both incidents, the 72-year old from Ballymacombs Road in Bellaghy had stopped taking medication for epilepsy.

Describing the crash in which the young boy was injured as "horrific", Judge Gordon Kerr QC said it was "fortunate" that both the youngster and his mother were not killed in the collision, which occurred on the Castle Road in Randalstown at 6.45pm on October 30, 2012.

Antrim Crown Court, sitting in Belfast, heard that four days before the incident, McErlean had collided three times with the rear of another vehicle on the Melmont Road in Sion Mills. When he was questioned by police, McErlean said he had a medical condition and that he had no recollection of the incident.

He was told by a police officer not to drive until he had spoken with his GP - but despite this warning, McErlean continued to drive and four days later caused the collision in Randalstown.

Saying McErlean had ignored this "clear and unambiguous warning", Judge Gordon Kerr QC said: "He is a mature and intelligent man and must have been aware the risk he was taking - a risk that could have led to the death of himself and others and did, in fact, lead to a serious injury to a young child."

The child in question was six when the collision occurred, and remains fearful of travelling in a car at night. Due to a lacerated cornea which was caused when the windscreen of his mother's Astra shattered, the youngster is now at risk of developing cataract glaucoma and retinal detachment.

Crown prosecutor Roseanne McCormick QC told the court that on the evening of the collision, the boy had been a front seat passenger in a car being driven along the Castle Road by his mother.

McErlean, who was driving a Toyota Rav 4 4x4, firstly "thumped" into the back of a car travelling in front of him before overtaking at speeds of up to 80mph. McErlean continued to drive in the wrong lane, causing a collision with an Astra travelling in the opposite direction.

Mrs McCormick said that despite trying to swerve to avoid being hit by the 4x4, the Astra's passenger side bore the brunt of the collision. The Astra was spun 180 degrees, while the 4x4 came to rest in a ditch. Telling the court that the DVA revoked McErlean's licence in November 2012, Mrs McCormick said the pensioner admitted a charge of causing grievous bodily injury to the child by dangerous driving.

She added: "The defendant has expressed his sincere remorse for the injuries the child suffered as a result of the collision", and said McErlean came before the court with a clear criminal record.

Citing the incident in Sion Mills four days prior to the collision and the fact McErlean stopped taking his epilepsy medication as important factors, Judge Kerr handed McErlean a 12-month sentence - four months of which will be served in custody, with the remaining eight months spent on supervised licence upon his release.

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