A man charged with careless driving causing the death of his close friend has been given a nine month suspended sentence.
Lee Peacock (25) initially told gardai he had swerved his car prior to the fatal accident to avoid an oncoming vehicle but later said it was to avoid a pedestrian on the road.
He later accepted the deceased woman, Jane Dardis, a front seat passenger, had put her hand on the steering wheel. Peacock said he had not wanted to attribute any blame to Ms Dardis.
The court heard Peacock had consumed four glasses of wine over a number of hours before the collision and was travelling at 80km/ph in a 60 km/ph speed zone.
Peacock, of Seafield Court, Lower Main Street, Rush, pleaded guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to careless driving causing the death of Ms Dardis at Rush Road, Skerries on October 25, 2016. He has no previous convictions.
Today, Judge Martin Nolan expressed his condolences to Ms Dardis’s family on the terrible tragedy.
Judge Nolan said it was an unusual sentencing case in that the facts of what occurred were not clear and the court had to make a determination of what happened from the evidence before it.
He said it was certain that the car had swerved abruptly to the left, collided with something and Ms Dardis sustained fatal injuries. He said the question was why the car had swerved.
He said from the evidence before him, Peacock was “in a perfectly fit state” when he made his first statement in hospital that he had swerved to avoid an oncoming car.
In relation to Peacock’s second statement, that there had been a pedestrian on the road, Judge Nolan found evidence that youths had been seen running up the road to be “extremely tenuous.”
The judge said Peacock’s credibility had been undermined in his eyes by his initial statement and he found the pedestrian in the road explanation to be unbelievable.
He said he had come to the conclusion the swerve was due to the “interplay between the driver and the front seat passenger”. He said he found speed “probably did not contribute greatly”.
He said only Peacock could give evidence of what occurred and for whatever reason he had “obscured the truth”. He said Peacock may have a “misplaced sense of loyalty” to Ms Dardis.
In mitigation, Judge Nolan said Peacock had co-operated with gardai and was truly remorseful. He noted the many references given to the court and said it was unlikely he would come before the court again. He said Peacock was a working man and “in general, a benefit to society”.
He noted there had been “no intentional wrong-doing” and that the state case was that Peacock did not act appropriately in dealing with the situation.
Judge Nolan concluded Peacock did not deserve a custodial sentence and imposed a nine month suspended sentence. He disqualified Peacock from driving for five years.
The maximum sentence for careless driving causing death is two years imprisonment.
The judge said he found it “somewhat disturbing” that people in the hospital treating Peacock did not assist gardai in taking a blood sample, describing it as a “legitimate request”.
The court heard gardai had been told that this would have been incompatible with his treatment.
A victim impact statement from Ms Dardis’s family described themselves as now being a “heartbroken, devastated family of three” without her. They described the popular young woman’s “infectious smile” and love of sports including camogie and sailing.
“Jane loved life and life loved her. She was truly a special person,” said the family of the beloved daughter, sister and friend.
Roisin Lacey SC, defending, said Peacock had a close relationship with Ms Dardis and has been significantly traumatised by her death. She said her family’s tragedy is deeply acknowledged and deeply regretted by him.
Ms Lacey said Peacock had made a very grave error which weighs heavily on him and will do for the rest of his life.