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29 Jun 2022

Donegal man admits 'nodding off' at the wheel before fatal collision

The man, who appeared at Letterkenny Circuit Court, was put off the road for four years after admitting careless driving causing death

Letterkenny court house.

Letterkenny courthouse.

A man told Gardaí how he ‘nodded off’ just before a collision which caused the death of a motorcyclist.

56-year-old Eddie McIntyre was killed when his motorcycle was involved in a collision with a car on the R238 Burnfoot-Buncrana Road on July 4, 2018.

Bryan Harkin (77) of Loughnagin, Letterkenny, has been disqualified from driving for four years and fined €3,000 after pleading guilty to careless driving causing the death of Mr McIntyre.

Garda Seamus Callaghan told Letterkenny Circuit Court that members were called to a collision at Magherabeg, Fahan, at 5.20pm.

Harkin was with his wife and two children on a return journey from the Irish Open, which was being held in Ballyliffin.

Garda Callaghan told Counsel for the State, Ms Patricia McLaughlin BL, that Harkin’s car had crossed over to Mr McIntyre’s side of the road. Harkin’s vehicle continued onto an embankment.

Sergeant Charlene Anderson approached the accused in his vehicle. Two children were playing computer games in the back seat and Harkin ‘seemed in a daze’, the court heard.

Sergeant Anderson knelt down beside Harkin who told her: “I think I nodded off.”

Harkin told Sergeant Anderson that he had been watching the golf all day. When the accident occurred, he heard a loud bang and a crash and added: “It was so warm, I think I nodded off.”

Harkin passed a roadside breath test and both drivers had full insurance cover. Harkin handed over his phone to Gardaí and it was established that there had been no recent activity.

After reviewing CCTV footage, Gardaí established that Harkin was traveling at 74km/h at one location and 64-65km/h at another, both of which were in 100km/h zones.

Mr McIntyre was taken to Altnagelvin Hospital, but never regained consciousness. He died of multiple injuries sustained in the crash.

In a statement which she read in court, Ms Pat McIntyre said that her husband was her ‘love, life and soulmate’.

“My heart and soul left with Eddie the day he died,” an emotional Ms McIntyre said. “I felt that I died the same day. It is impossible to put into words and describe the beautiful, smart, loving, caring and witty person that Eddie was.

“Eddie was the eldest of six and they all looked up to him and thought of him as their hero.”

Mr McIntyre was a business partner with his father, Robert, at the 19th Hole bar and he had a ’special bond’ with his mother, Kathleen, prior to her death in 1990.

“Eddie loved his family, he was the head of our family and the provider,” Ms McIntyre said.

“He used to say to me that we love each other and we would do anything for each other.

“Eddie’s children are devastated. They got through so many life events without their daddy. He did not see them turning into beautiful, strong, kind, caring adults.

“He loved them dearly. We are lost without Eddie and we miss him every hour of the day. All we have are photos to look back on. Words cannot describe the amazing person Eddie was or describe the loss, pain and devastation.”

Barrister for Harkin, Mr Richard Lyons SC, said his client had suffered an ‘absolutely momentary lapse’.

Harkin, he said, ‘led a blameless life until this point’. He retired in 2005 having been a national school principal in St Johnston, Lurgybrack and Grianán Ailigh.

The court heard that Harkin was involved in a lot of fundraising and community-based activities, including Letterkenny Credit Union, and he was previously a member of the Board of Directors at Finn Harps Football Club.

“He is a man before the court utterly unblemished and he ends up guilty of this offence,” Mr Lyons said. A number of testimonials were handed into the court.

Addressing the court, Harkin offered his ‘deepest sympathy and condolences’ to the McIntyre family, who were present.

“The fact that all of this devastation and grief was caused by me is a heavy burden to carry,” Harkin said. “Not an hour of any day passes that I don’t think of Eddie, his family and his friends. A good man’s life was cut short on that terrible day.”

Harkin said the incident had ‘ravaged’ his own family and friends.

“I will carry the many consequences of Eddie’s death to my grave,” he added.

Judge John Aylmer said it was ‘an extremely tragic case’.

“This is a case which I would put beyond the midpoint of careless but falling short of dangerous,” Judge Aylmer said.

“We are all becoming more and more conscious of not driving when tired. It is quite a culpable thing to do, to get behind the wheel when conscious of being tired.”

Judge Aylmer noted that there was nothing to suggest that the accused was feeling tired.

While a custodial sentence was ‘difficult to envisage’, Judge Aylmer said the seriousness needed to be marked.

Noting that Harkin was a ‘man of excellent character with an unblemished record’, he reduced a starting-point fine of €5,000 to one of €3,000, giving 12 months to pay.

Harkin was disqualified from driving for four years, with the start date postponed until November, 2022.

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