A truck driver from Northern Ireland who suddenly veered off a motorway in the Republic and struck a car on the hard shoulder, killing a young mother on her way to see her sick newborn baby in hospital, has avoided a prison sentence.
Tipperary Circuit Criminal Court heard that Nicola Kenny (26) died instantly from multiple injuries in the collision between the truck and the car in which she was a back seat passenger.
The crash on the M8 Cork-Dublin motorway happened just seconds after she heard from Temple Street Children's Hospital that her 24-hour-old baby Lily Rose was fine and she didn't need to make the trip to Dublin to see her.
Truck driver Ciaran McBride (33) of Carna, Keady, Co Armagh pleaded guilty yesterday to careless driving causing death between Junctions 10 and 9 on the motorway on September 5, 2016.
Judge Tom Teehan, in imposing a suspended 18 month prison sentence, said the evidence indicated it was most likely the truck driver momentarily fell asleep at the wheel rather than being distracted by a fit of sneezing, as claimed.
"(It was) much more consistent with falling asleep at the wheel," he said.
"The greater the size of the vehicle, the greater the onus on the person driving it."
"He is somebody who is going to have to live for the rest of his days with the knowledge that he has caused the death of another human being and caused life changing effects to an entire family."
The court was told that the 2001 Volvo truck driven by McBride ploughed into the rear of the Ford Focus, stopped on the hard shoulder, which contained Ms Kenny, her mother Ann, a front seat passenger, and her aunt, Irene Whelan Slattery.
Ms Kenny had given birth to a baby girl, Lily Rose, in Clonmel Hospital on September 4.
However, the little girl became ill and was rushed to Temple Street in Dublin.
Ms Kenny had just been collected by her Thurles-based mother and aunt and was on her way to see the infant in Dublin.
Mrs Whelan Slattery suffered a traumatic brain injury in the collision and had to be airlifted to University Hospital Limerick (UHL).
Sergeant Declan Corrigan told the court the Ford Focus had pulled over onto the hard shoulder around 12.25pm that day to allow Ms Kenny to take an urgent hospital call.
"The call was to tell Nicola the baby was fine and there was no need to travel to Dublin," he said.
Seconds after the call finished, the Ford was struck from the rear by the truck driven by the defendant.
The court was told that McBride insisted at the scene and to gardai that the accident was caused when he suddenly suffered a bout of sneezing.
"He sneezed - it was on account of that it would appear his vehicle slightly veered onto the hard shoulder," defence counsel Philip Sheahan SC said.
In hard-hitting victim impact statements, Nicola's parents, Ann and Paddy, said their lives had been left devastated by the tragedy.
"The death of Nicola as a young mother was devastating both for myself and my entire family," her mother said.
"Life will never be the same again."
Nicola's father, Paddy, said his family are now raising Lily Rose.
"It has left a huge hole in our lives - Nicola's death is a big loss to our family and Lily Rose will have to grow up without her mother," he said.
Family members did not attend the sentencing hearing.
Speaking after the sentence, Nicola's mother Ann said nothing will bring her daughter back.
"I'm just happy that the truth came out. That's all I ever wanted - the truth," she said.
"But at the end of the day it doesn't change anything. Nicola isn't here any more," she added.
She said that Lily Rose is growing up and is well looked after by members of the family.
"She's flying through the place. She's doing great," she said.
Judge Teehan was told that the defendant had indicated to gardai he would plead at a very early stage and co-operated fully with the investigation.
Mr McBride had contacted the Kenny family through an Armagh priest, and offered to attend Nicola's funeral.
However, he agreed not to do so when he learned of the Tipperary family's wishes.
Defence counsel Philip Sheahan said his client was deeply remorseful and was now suffering Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
"Remorse and regret - sorrow is profound for Mr McBride," he said.
"But it pales in comparison to the level of pain and suffering visited on the victim's family."
McBride no longer works as a truck driver.