A Co Donegal man has been jailed for two years and disqualified from driving for ten years for causing a crash which killed eight people in Inishowen.

Shaun Kelly appearing at an earlier court sitting. Pic copyright North West Newspics.

Shaun Kelly appearing at an earlier court sitting. Pic copyright North West Newspics.

Shaun Kelly, 26, had pleaded guilty to dangerous driving causing the deaths of eight people on July 11th, 2010.

Seven of those killed were his friends and passengers in the car which he was driving between Clonmany and Buncrana at Glasmullen.

The other man killed in the crash was a 66 year old pensioner who was driving in the opposite direction on his way home from a night at bingo.

The crash resulted in the single biggest loss of life from a car crash in the history of the state.

The men who died in the crash were Hugh Friel (66), Urris,Clonmany, Eamon McDaid (22) of Ballymagan, Buncrana; Mark McLaughlin, (21) of Ballinahone, Fahan; Paul Doherty (19), of Ardagh, Ballyliffin; Ciaran Sweeney (19), of Ballyliffin; PJ McLaughlin (21), of Rockstown, Burnfoot; James McEleney (23), of Meenaduff, Clonmany and Damien McLaughlin (21), of Umricam, Buncrana.

Judge John O’Hagan jailed Kelly for a total of four years but suspended that last two years and disqualified him from driving for ten years.

Passing sentence he said it was sometimes difficult to be a judge.

But he said “The consequences in the community are insurmountable and it is beyond description. It is a terrible, terrible tragedy.”

The case had been adjourned from last week for today’s sentence at Letterkenny Circuit Court by Judge John O’Hagan.

The court heard how Kelly and his friends had been socialising at the High Stool Bar in Clonmany on the evening of the World Cup Final.

At about 10.30pm all the men got into Kelly’s car and drove towards Buncrana in an erratic manner.

Eye-witnesses revealed how Kelly was screeching the tyres of his Volkswagen Passat car and there had ben s smell of burning rubber.

Approximately 5.5 kms out the road from Clonmany to Buncrana, witness James Gallagher said he noticed a car in his rear-view mirror driving very fast and it was “driving up my a***.”

The car then overtook Mr Gallagher in a ’jerky’ fashion before increasing speed and driving off wreckleesly.

Mr Gallagher then flashed his headlights at the overtaking car but Kelly replied by flashing his indictors.

Mr Gallagher then said he thought to himself that if the driver did not slow down he was going to kill someone.

He then said he saw a silver car coming around a bend smoking and making a noise.

Mrs Anne McGilloway, who was driving that silver car, was driving on the same road from Buncrana to Clonmany after attended bingo.

Her statement revealed how she had overtaken a car being driven by Hugh Friel, another man killed in the crash.

Traveling at between 40 to 50mph, she recalled seeing a black car coming around a bend and coming onto the wrong side of the road.

She said she saw the driver trying to turn the steering wheel of the car to pull it back to his side of the road and thought “Thank God he’s going to miss me.”

She then said she heard a loud bang and that her airbag had ben set off and there was smoke everywhere.

Kelly’s car then spun out of control and fishtailed across the road again and struck Mr Hugh Friel who was coming behind Kelly and his seven passengers in the VW Passat.

The Passat struck Mr Friel’s red Toyota Corrolla car with such impact that it drove it 18 metres back down the road.

Kelly’s car finally stopped when it crashed into a ditch and struck a telegraph pole.

Garda Sgt Carol Doherty, of Buncrana Garda Station, described a scene of devastation and carnage when she arrived at the scene of the horrific crash.

She revealed how none of the men were wearing seatbelts in the VW Passat and that Kelly had his seatbelt clicked in and was actually sitting on the belt.

She said the emergency services had tried to CPR on Mr Friel but he was declared dead at the scene at a short time later.

All seven of Kelly’s passengers were pronounced dead at the scene while Kelly was transferred to Letterkenny General Hospital.

Garda Doherty also told the court that Kelly had two previous convictions, one for dangerous driving before the crash and another for driving without a registration plate on his truck since the crash.

Dr Mark Hogan, a clinical senior neuropsychologist based in Co Donegal, has been treating Kelly since March 15th, 2011.

He said the overall situation was that Kelly has suffered a brain injury and was showing all the problems of trying to deal with that injury.

He said Kelly had consistently talked about suicide and how he wished he could join his friends.

He added that four and a half years after the incident, it is unlikely he will recall the events of the night of the crash.

He has consistently talked about suicide and how he wished he could join his friends.

He said he has overall expressed remorse and does accept responsibility for what happened on the night.

All eight families who suffered a loss of life were invited to read out a victim impact statement to the court.

All described the hurt, pain and grief they have suffered over the past four and a half years.

Of the eight heart-breaking victim impact statements, four families appealed to Judge John O’Hagan not to send Kelly to jail.

The father of the accused, Mr Liam Kelly read out a statement in court reflecting how his family had been affected by the crash.

He revealed how a few weeks before the crash his son had wanted to go to America but he asked him to stay to help him in the family transport business.

He added that he sometimes blames himself saying the crash may never have happened if he hadn’t asked his son to stay at home.

He said there was now a healing process between the families and he asked Judge John O’Hagan not to interrupt that process.

“We beg you not to do anything that will prevent that haling process in our communities,” he said.

When Judge O’Hagan passed sentence, several people in the packed courthouse broke down crying.

 


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