Victim was pinned between wall and vehicle in violent incident
A man who pleaded guilty to dangerous driving causing serious bodily harm and failure to report it has been jailed for six years with the final 18 months suspended for a period of three years subject to a number of conditions.
Alan Whelan, 65 Gleann Riada, Strokestown Road, Longford, appeared before Judge Keenan Johnson at the recent sittings of Longford Circuit Court, where details were heard of a hit and run incident, which caused serious injury to another.
The incident occurred on January 7, 2019, when the injured party, Gerard Donoghue, and his girlfriend, Liga Jonusa, were running errands in Edgeworthstown.
The court heard how, on that morning, Mr Donoghue and his partner met Eamon Stokes, a co-accused of Mr Whelan, in the post office.
CCTV footage played in court showed Mr Stokes turning around and spitting when he saw the injured party, before leaving the post office. It was revealed in court that there was “bad blood” between the two.
While Ms Jonusa entered a nearby shop, Mr Donoghue waited for her outside when a Fiat Punto was driven onto the pavement, hitting him and pinning him between the shopfront and the vehicle, causing serious crush injuries to his leg.
Detective Garda Brendan Lynn told the court that the vehicle was driven by Alan Whelan, with Mr Stokes a passenger in the car. Following the incident, both men abandoned the vehicle and escaped on foot, with CCTV footage showing a number of bystanders attempting to stop them.
Gardaí seized the vehicle for a technical examination. A hatchet was also seized from the car.
Mr Whelan was arrested and interviewed on January 22, 2019, where he acknowledged he had been driving the car.
He told Gardaí that, when he woke up that morning, he was suffering from a headache and took three to four Valium and smoked a joint of cannabis to ease his anxiety and his headache.
He explained that, on the date in question, he was travelling behind a bus and thatit pulled in to a shop to let people off. When it did, he said he overtook the bus and met an oncoming vehicle.
He told Gardaí that he panicked and swung onto the pavement and that he was there for 30 seconds before realising he had hit someone but that he did not realise it was Gerard Donoghue he had hit. He then panicked and ran out of the car.
He also denied to Gardaí that Eamon Stokes was with him when the accident occurred.
Garda investigations revealed that Mr Stokes had returned home from the post office on that day and told Mr Whelan that he had met Mr Donoghue. Mr Whelan, the court heard, had responded by saying he would “stick a hatchet” in the head of the victim. The two men then got into the car, with Mr Whelan in the driver’s seat.
CCTV footage harvested from the Bus Éireann bus that Mr Whelan had overtaken showed that the accused drove the offending vehicle deliberately and directly at the victim.
The footage showed the car mounting the kerb and pinning Mr Donoghue against the wall.
“It is shocking to think that somebody would use a car in such a dangerous and deliberate fashion,” said Judge Johnson.
“Quite clearly, the intent was to cause serious injury to Mr Donoghue. In the immediate aftermath of the impact, the accused is seen, along with the co-accused, making a hasty exit out of the car and then abandoning it and absconding from the scene. The accused makes no effort whatsoever to render assistance to the injured party.”
A medical report furnished to the court outlined serious injuries sustained by Mr Donoghue, including an open compound proximal tibial shaft and fibula fracture. He underwent surgery the day after the incident and had a bar and nails inserted.
In a follow-up examination, it was discovered that there was a visible fracture between the two portions of bone and, as a consequence, Mr Donoghue had to undergo further surgery and was prescribed a bone stimulating ultrasound device for three months.
“Thankfully the bones did, ultimately, fuse. However, the victim has been left with long-term adverse sequale as a consequence of the assault,” said Judge Johnson.
A victim impact statement by Mr Donoghue described the adverse effects the injury had on him.
He said he is nervous when he’s out walking for fear that he might be hit by a car. He also said he cannot believe that his first cousin, Eamon Stokes took matters so far and described how he feels “broken inside” and cannot stop thinking about the fact that he was left unaided by either of the accused.
“There can be little doubt but that this was an extremely serious assault perpetrated in broad daylight,” said Judge Johnson.
“The fact that a car was used in the assault is extremely disconcerting. Furthermore, the fact that the pavement was mounted by the car to perpetrate the assault is a further aggravating factor.
“It is difficult to understand the mindset and mentality that would allow such an event to take place.”
Aggravating factors in the course of sentencing included the level of violence and the fact that the crime involved the use of a car.
“The intentional nature of the driving, which was designed to cause injury to the victim is a further, extremely aggravating factor,” said Judge Johnson.
“Allied to this, it is clear that the accused drove while under the influence of intoxicants and without insurance. He put not only the victim in danger, but also other innocent members of the public who might happen to be in the vicinity.”
Judge Johnson also took into account the effect of the assault on the victim, who suffered “extremely serious injuries, which were life changing and have left him with both physical and psychological sequalae”.
Mr Whelan also has a significant number of prior convictions at District Court level, including 13 road traffic offences, six thefts, two for possession of drugs, one for possession of a knife and one for breach of public order.
A probation report assessed him at high risk of reoffending, with family pressures, drug use, lack of employment and financial stress being issues he has to address.
A guilty plea, however, was taken in mitigation, but his cooperation with Gardaí was limited, Judge Johnson noted. He did, however, note an apology which was tendered to Mr Donoghue.
He also accepted that, while Mr Whelan was not acting under duress at the time of the incident, he was “under strong influence from his co-accused, Eamon Stokes”, a fact which was accepted in court by leade investigator, Detective Garda Brendan Lynn.
“While the court is prepared to attribute some mitigation on this aspect, it has to be said that such mitigation is extremely limited, given that there is clear evidence that the accused was anxious to pursue Mr Donoghue and indicated that he was willing to stick a hatchet in his head,” said Judge Johnson.
“This clearly indicates that the accused had a ‘bone to pick’ with Mr Donoghue and went willingly in pursuit of him and with the intention of causing injury.”
He did, however, take into account the fact that Mr Whelan has three children, is now living with his aunt in Strokestown and staying out of trouble.
Stating that he was satisfied the offence ranked in the “middle of the upper range” of offending and attracted a headline sentence of eight years, Judge Johnson, after mitigation, reduced that sentence to six years, suspending the final 18 months for three years.
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