A Co Cavan man who absconded ahead of sentencing for causing the death of a woman by dangerous driving has been jailed in Northern Ireland.
Brian Lynch (24), from Cloggagh, Ballyjamesduff, did not have insurance or the correct licence at the time of the collision in Strabane in April 2017.
Lynch was driving a 18ft-long cattle lorry after purchasing it earlier, and while approaching the junction of the Great Northern Link and Urney Road he went through a red light.
He struck the car in which 69-year-old Strabane grandmother Margaret McLaughlin was the front seat passenger. Her husband Pat was driving.
She was taken to Altnagelvin Hospital but passed away from chest injuries early the following morning.
A trial had been scheduled at Dungannon Crown Court in October 2018. Lynch had denied causing death by dangerous driving, but he offered a plea of careless driving, which was rejected by the prosecution.
On the morning of the trial, he was re-arraigned. He then admitted death by dangerous driving, and sentencing was scheduled for January 2019.
When the case returned, it transpired Lynch had switched lawyers, with the new ones needing time to acquaint themselves with the case. Sentencing was re-scheduled for May 2019, but Lynch did not appear.
A European Arrest Warrant was issued and he was found and remanded in custody.
He appeared for sentencing by video-link before Judge Brian Sherrard QC, who commented on letters received by the victim's family expressing distress at the delay.
A defence barrister pointed to his client's "timely guilty plea" sparing the necessity of a trial, adding: "I am instructed to make clear his apology and profound regret in the death caused and for the effect his conduct has had by not appearing for sentencing."
However, the defence added: "We do not accept this is a higher culpability case and believe it should be intermediary level."
A prosecution lawyer informed the court of a further conviction in February 2019, when Lynch was detected using a mobile phone while driving.
"Although relatively minor, it may be some indication when dealing with the level of remorse," the prosecution said.
"Credit for a guilty plea has the important distinction of efficient disposal of cases and the removal of the pressure they create on families, particularly where there is a deceased.
"That timely plea is wholly overwritten now as he left the jurisdiction a year ago and made no effort to make himself amenable. The European Arrest Warrant had to be initiated to extradite him back. It's through no assistance of his that he is now before the court. His actions are inconsistent with remorse."
Judge Sherrard said Mrs McLaughlin "was a much-loved wife, mother and grandmother and was cherished within her community, previously working as a housekeeper for the priest at Melmount Parish".
He told Lynch: "I have no doubt your immaturity contributed to poor judgment and decision making. Unfortunately, many of these cases involve youths and youthful folly while driving."
Delay causing the matter to "hang over" Lynch's head was, said the judge, "principally caused by you equivocating on pleading guilty then absenting yourself. Concern for your own welfare took first place over the interests of justice and the victim's family".
Judge Sherrard imposed a sentence of four years, half in custody and the remainder on licence. Lynch was also banned from driving for three years.