A driver whose car struck and killed a motorcyclist when he “suddenly” moved his car into the bus lane has received a fully suspended sentence.
Stephen Fee (53) was knocked from his motorcycle when John Tierney (53) suddenly pulled his car into the bus lane in which Mr Fee had been driving.
Tierney, of Rockhouse, Gowna, Co Cavan, pleaded guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to dangerous driving causing death at junction 3 of the N4 motorway, Lucan, Co Dublin, on December 10, 2018. He has no previous convictions.
Passing sentencing yesterday , Judge Martin Nolan said Mr Fee’s death was particularly tragic taking into account the death of his brother at a younger age. He said it seemed that “tragedy has certainly visited the Fee family”.
Judge Nolan said that in his view the driving in relation to the incident was of a “misjudgement level” with little or no aggravating factors. He said that taken with the “excellent mitigation”, Tierney does not deserve a custodial sentence.
He sentenced Tierney to three years imprisonment, but suspended the sentence in full on strict conditions. He suspended Tierney from driving for eight years.
Judge Nolan said the dangerous driving in the case was that Tierney should have looked to make sure nothing was driving in the lane before he changed his lane. He said it seemed Tierney had taken a decision to change lanes and did so in a “sudden” way.
He said that in this case Tierney “committed a misjudgement” and unfortunately for everyone in the court, Mr Fee died.
Sergeant Paul Moran told John Berry BL, prosecuting, that Mr Fee was travelling inbound towards Dublin in an outer bus lane of the N4 motorway near a junction in Lucan just before the collision. Mr Fee was wearing hi-vis trousers and a hi-vis jacket while driving his motorcycle.
Sgt Moran said the weather was relatively dry and calm, although the road was somewhat damp prior to the accident.
Following the collision, Mr Fee was brought to hospital where he was later pronounced dead. A doctor concluded that his death was caused by “massive inner cranial injuries secondary to skull fracture” as a result of a motor vehicle incident.
In interview with gardaí, Tierney said his car began to lose power after a light came on for the “diesel particle filter” and as a result he dropped down into second gear trying to clear the problem with the car. He said he then pulled into the bus lane.
Tierney accepted it was fair to say he pulled right into the path of the motorcycle and that he had not seen Mr Fee prior to the collision. He accepted the manoeuvre he made was dangerous and said it was “a bad judgement call”.
The court heard that there was no suggestion that Tierney was driving at excess speed or that he was in any way intoxicated.
In her victim impact statement, which was read out in court on her behalf, the victim’s sister Anne Connolly said her brother was quite shy as a person but witty when you go to know him.
Ms Connolly said that he is “dearly missed” by his friends and family and how it has impacted on them “is impossible to display in words”.
She said that without Stephen she has lost a part of herself. She said there is “a sense of loss that never leaves my mind”.
“My brother’s life was not over and he had not finished living,” she told the court.
Sgt Moran agreed with Kathleen Noctor SC, defending, that her client’s son was in the car with him when the collision occurred. He agreed that both her client and his partner are in ill health.
Sergeant Paul Carney told Mr Berry that he was able to estimate that Mr Fee was travelling at 110 km/h prior to the collision. He said the speed limit for that road is 80 km/h.
Ms Noctor said her client was “in chronic poor health” and has since had a kidney removed. She said he has since been diagnosed with PTSD and depression.
Counsel said her client was willing to undertake to never drive again. She said this was notwithstanding that his partner was in ill health and does not drive.
Ms Noctor said her client has four children and that neither parent in the house is in a position to work at the moment. She asked the court to be as lenient as possible.
Judge Nolan said the mitigating factors were Tierney’s guilty plea, his co-operation with the investigation, his lack of previous convictions, his work record and his being “a good family man”.
He said he took into account that he has health problems and that it is “highly unlikely he will consciously misbehave in the future”.
He said that there are no particularly aggravating factors in this case. He said that aggravating factors in these type of cases are behaviours that render someone incapable of having proper control of the car or behaviours of serious risk taking.
In her victim impact statement, which she read out before the court, another of the victim’s sisters Eileen Daniel said that the suddenness of her brother’s death is so hard to come to terms with.
Ms Daniel said she involuntarily finds herself visualising the horror of what happened to her brother and imagining his reactions in his last moments. She said it was “incredibly distressing” that no one who loved him was by his side when he died.
She said that no parent should have to bury their child, but her mother has now had to bury two of her children as well as her husband.
Ms Daniel said another of her brothers died in his 30s in an horrific construction accident. She said she cannot explain what it is like to lose “not just one but two brothers in a sudden, horrific and violent way”.
She said she was in the middle of packing for a trip when the phone rang and her mother told her “Stephen’s gone”. She said when her mother explained that he had just been killed in a road traffic accident “I screamed out loud”.
Ms Daniel said her brother was very well travelled and that you could have an interesting conversation with him on almost any subject. She said to this day she still picks up the mobile phone to talk to him about something on the news or talk about her children or tell him something funny.
“And then the sudden realisation hits me that he is dead and it is stomach churning every time,” she told the court.
She said there are so many “deeply sad memories that are now indelibly imprinted on my brain”. She spoke of the anguish of having to go buy her brother a suit to wear in his coffin because he had no other clothes as they could not get into his house until after his funeral.
Ms Daniel said her brother was buried on what would have been his 54th birthday.