A Co Armagh part-time fireman who knocked down and killed an 89-year-old grandmother when he reversed too quickly around a corner was handed a six-month jail sentence yesterday.
However, John Kinsella (37) walked free from Newry Crown Court, sitting in Antrim, after Judge Neil Rafferty QC suspended the sentence for three years.
He told the married father-of-three: "I have come to the conclusion that no sentence of imprisonment measured in months could equate to the value of the life of Claire Coyle nor the loss that her family suffered.
"I have equally come to the conclusion that this is an exceptional case both in terms of the culpability in the driving of the defendant and the personal mitigation that he has," added the judge, who also imposed a two-year driving ban.
Two months ago Kinsella, from the Clay Road in Keady, admitted causing the death of Mrs Coyle by driving dangerously on the Victoria Road/Clay Road in Keady on August 14, 2018.
In an agreed basis of plea document submitted to the court, prosecution QC David McDowell outlined that just before 6.30pm that day Kinsella parked his Toyota Landcruiser outside McGrane's shop on Victoria Street and got out to speak to his friend. When the other driver left, Kinsella got back into his vehicle and reversed backwards in order to turn into the Clay Road just over 30 feet behind him.
Tragically, he collided with Mrs Coyle who had been slowly crossing the road behind him.
A video of the incident had been played at an earlier hearing, clearly showing the SUV reversing at speed and knocking Mrs Coyle down.
It also shows Kinsella, a part-time fireman for 18 years, immediately getting out of his car and kneeling down beside the fatally injured pensioner before others run to the scene to help.
Mrs Coyle, described by her daughter as having been "mentally sharp and in good health for her age," was taken to Craigavon Area Hospital where "her low level of consciousness was suggestive of a serious head injury". She was pronounced dead at 8.20pm.
Police at the scene spoke to Kinsella and he admitted he had knocked her over, telling officers he "had not seen her".
The scene and CCTV footage was examined by Damien Coll, a vehicle collision expert, who calculated it took Kinsella 4.2 seconds to reverse 9.765 metres. Mr McDowell said the engineer "performed a similar manoeuvre at what he considered to be a safe speed", which took 11 seconds,
The lawyer said Mr Coll also concluded that depending on various factors, "the pedestrian may not have been visible in any of the mirrors when the driver commenced to reverse".
"The prosecution is therefore unable to suggest that the reason Mr Kinsella struck Mrs Coyle was a failure to look in his mirrors before beginning to reverse," said Mr McDowell.
During police interviews three days later, Kinsella told officers that he would have checked his mirrors but that the view in the central rear-view mirror "wasn't great due to the spare tyre partially covering the window."
During sentencing, Judge Rafferty revealed Mrs Coyle's son had described her as the head and heart of the family who had a "wonderful personality" but whose death has left a "big hole". He also revealed it was clear from defence reports that Kinsella "holds feelings of guilt" which will likely "stay with him for the remainder of his days".