Man who drove with degenerative eye disease, killing elderly pedestrian, brings appeal

Report from the courts

Ruaidhrí Giblin

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Ruaidhrí Giblin

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Dundalk man has sentence increased by Court of Appeal

Court of Appeal, Dublin

An ex-postman with a degenerative eye disorder, who was jailed for dangerous driving causing the death of an elderly pedestrian, has brought an appeal against the severity of his sentence. 

David Byrne (43) of Sunnyhill, Castlemartin Lodge, Kilcullen, Co Kildare, had pleaded not (NOT) guilty to dangerous driving causing the death of Patricia Dunne (70) at Collins Avenue East, Killester in Dublin on October 16, 2015.

The father-of-two had also pleaded not guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to dishonestly inducing the National Driving Licence Service (NDLS) to issue him with a driving licence and making a false or misleading statement while taking out insurance. 

Byrne has Type 2 Usher Syndrome which is a degenerative eye disorder resulting in peripheral vision loss, the court heard.

During the trial, the court heard that Ms Dunne had been walking home pulling a shopping trolley around midday when she began to cross the road. A van slowed to allow her to cross, but Byrne's car then hit her and she was “flung up in the air” before the vehicle came to a stop.

He was found guilty by a jury on all three counts and was sentenced to five years imprisonment by Judge Patricia Ryan on May 11, 2018. He had no previous convictions.

Byrne moved to appeal the severity of his sentence on Monday in the Court of Appeal where judgment was reserved. 

His barrister, Michael O’Higgins SC, said it was a very dangerous part of the road to make a crossing. The pedestrian crossed into the middle of the road, paused and allowed a car to pass before continuing into the second part of the road, leaving Byrne with “at best” two seconds to stop, counsel said. 

Mr O’Higgins said it was a “very, very small period of time”, for “even the best driver out there” with perfect vision. 

The fact of his client’s Usher Syndrome was made equivalent to the person that drinks “huge amounts of alcohol” and drives “in a cavalier manner” causing devastating consequences, Mr O’Higgins submitted. 

He said the eight year headline sentence nominated by the trial judge was too high. Byrne had no previous convictions, a very good work record, had never come to the adverse attention of the gardaí and was “very connected” to the community. 

Counsel for the Director of Public Prosecutions, Fionnuala O’Sullivan BL, said driving with Usher Syndrome presented a direct and immediate risk to the public. That was demonstrated by the lack of reaction time, which caused the victim’s death, she said. 

Ms O’Sullivan said there was an “intrinsic moral culpability” attached to driving with Usher Syndrome, and continuing to drive for a number of years. Had there been no medical issue, or impairment like intoxication, the case would have fallen into the category of careless driving causing death.

She accepted that an eight year headline sentence was high but the overall sentence of five years was within the judge’s margin of discretion. 

Reserving judgment, President of the Court of Appeal Mr Justice George Birmingham, who sat with Ms Justice Máire Whelan and Ms Justice Isobel Kennedy, said the court hoped to have a decision on Friday December 20 next. 

On earlier occasion, Ms O'Sullivan said the injured party was available to be seen from 65 metres away.

Assuming Byrne was driving at 50 km/hr, she said he was 7.24 seconds away from the moment Ms Dunne started to cross the road and 2.84 seconds away from when she crossed the middle of the road.

The moment Ms Dunne started to cross the road, one would have expected there to be a reaction from Byrne, such as slowing down, Ms O’Sullivan said. But there were a number of pieces of evidence to show there was no reaction.