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No jail for Coleraine woman who killed motorcyclist

Judge: I have to say this is the saddest case I have ever come across

By Paul Higgins

Published 22/06/2015

Katriona Kearney leaves Antrim Court charged with causing the death of Eamon Farrelly by driving carelessly on the Ballymena Road off slip of the M2 motorway on 8 July 2013. Photo Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker Press
Katriona Kearney leaves Antrim Court charged with causing the death of Eamon Farrelly by driving carelessly on the Ballymena Road off slip of the M2 motorway on 8 July 2013. Photo Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker Press

A Coleraine woman who killed a motorcyclist in a low speed car accident has been given a 60 hours Community Service Order for causing the death of Eamon Farrelly by careless driving.

At Antrim Crown Court, 27-year-old Katriona Kearney shook and wept uncontrollably throughout the hearing, continually wiping away tears and covering her ears with her hands.

Defence QC Laurence McCrudden told the court that was because Kearney was so consumed with guilt at the devastation she had caused she was too distressed to listen to the court proceedings.

Last month Kearney, from Loughanhill Park, pleaded guilty to causing the death of Eamon Farrelly by driving carelessly on the M2 off slip of the Ballymena Road on 8 July 2013.

The 42-year-old father-of-two from Belfast died as a result of the injuries he received in a three vehicle collision involving his motorbike, a lorry and Kearney's Vauxhall Zafira car at the Dunsilly off-slip on the northbound lane of the motorway.

Today the court heard how the two people involved had been enjoying a "family orientated" summer day - Kearney returning home from a day out at Belfast Zoo and Mr Farrelly on his way to join his wife and daughter for a few days away at the north coast - when tragedy struck due to a "momentary lapse in concentration."

Prosecuting QC Jackie Orr recounted how Kearney's Vauxhall Zafira car was behind Mr Farrelly's Yamaha motorbike with a Scania lorry in the lane beside them at the Dunsilly Roundabout.

She said that a passing police patrol came upon the accident at around 3pm that day and paramedics were quickly summoned to treat the stricken Mr Farrelly but that he was later pronounced dead at the Antrim Area Hospital.

The lawyer described how, according to Kearney's police interviews, a statement from the lorry driver and a forensic engineers report, it appeared that Kearney had bumped into the rear of the motorbike believing it had pulled out of the junction, knocking Mr Farrelly off to the left into the lane where the lorry was pulling out.

Ms Orr said she was aware that Mr Farrelly's widow and family were sitting in the public gallery so to avoid extra distress, she would not open in court what exactly happened or the detailed findings of post mortem examination, save the say that Mr Farrelly died as a result of chest injuries.

According to the forensic engineer, Kearney's speed at the point of impact was likely to have been between five "and at the very most" 10mph, said the lawyer adding that there were no aggravating features in the case such as alcohol, using a mobile phone or excessive speed.

Ms Orr told the court there were victim impact reports but again to save the families distress, she would not disclose the details in open court "but I will say it's not in anyway surprising or trite to say that the impact of the loss of Mr Farrelly has been substantial."

She said it was also not surprising that with a clear criminal record, mother-of-two Kearney had been assessed as a low likelihood of re-offending, adding that the prosecution accepted her culpability in causing the death was low and with no aggravating factors, sentencing guidelines called for a community based sentence.

During his impassioned plea Mr McCrudden declared that in 40 years at the Bar, "I have never, never come across or acted for a client who was so consumed with grief and upset at what has happened."

"No words of mine can possibly assuage or diminish the grief and the pain of the Farrelly family," said the lawyer who described the case as a "tragedy of the utmost sadness and represents the single most devastating and dreadful life changing event" in the lives of both Mrs Farrelly and Kearney.

He accepted however that Kearney's anguish is "but a glimmer when compared to the shocking and catastrophic loss of the Farrelly family," adding that he had been expressly instructed to offer her "genuine regret and sadness and sorrow for what happened in the twinkling of an eye."

"It is perhaps an object lesson to us all to bear in mind that in the least threatening situation on the roads, there is always a danger and one must always be on one's guard in every possible way because here we have an otherwise ordinary July afternoon where two utterly innocent, blameless, decent people in this community have been thrust into a shocking and tragic situation," said Mr McCrudden.

He submitted that in "999 times out of 1000," the low speed impact would have resulted in no more that ire and an exchange of insurance details, submitting that it is the sort of case that many drivers, "perhaps even in this very courtroom," have been faced with.

Asking a visibly shaking Kearney to stand in the dock, Judge Desmond Marrinan said he had been a lawyer and a judge for longer than Mr McCrudden but even at that, "I have to say this is the saddest case I have ever come across."

The judge said accepted her "momentary lack of attention had lead to this dreadful and horrible tragedy" which had caused both her and Mrs Farrelly, "to whom the court extends it's sincere regret," great levels of distress.

He said it was important to remember when dealing with cases such as this that "all of us are fallible" and that for her part, Kearney had "made the literally fatal mistake" of assuming Mr Farrelly had moved forward.

In imposing the the community service hours, Judge Marrinan said his view was that it "would be cruel" to send her to prison as "this unfortunate young woman will have to live with the consequences of this for a long time."

As well as the CSO, Kearney was banned from driving for a year but will not have to re-sit her test.

Outside the court, she declined to comment when asked for her feelings or views while the Farrelly family released a statement urging other drivers to take more care on the roads.

"Eamon loved motorcycling. We just want people to be aware and to look twice, especially with the lighter evenings.

"This was a low impact accident but it has caused devastation for the whole family and we don't want anybody else to go through this," said the statement.

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