Drunk driver ploughed into walkers completing ‘Darkness Into Light’ event

October 6, 2016

A drunk driver ploughed into a crowd of people and injured a man who was taking part in the Darkness Into Light charity walk, a court has heard.

The man drove at speed through a crowd of 1,800 people and could have caused multiple fatalities.

Gerry Hughes (25) of Clar Road, Donegal town, was four times over the drink driving limit when he drove through the route of the Darkness Into Light charity walk in Donegal town in the early hours of May 7th last.

Donegal District Court heard that Hughes could have injured his own parents, who were also taking part in the charity event.

Around 1,800 people were taking part in the charity event for Pieta house, a charity that aims to prevent suicide and self harm. The walk had started at 4.15 am and was making its way up main street in Donegal when Hughes drove through the crowd of walkers at 4.30am.

Hughes, a lorry driver, admitted drink driving at Drimnaherk East, Donegal town and two counts of dangerous driving at Main Street car park, Donegal town, and at Ballydevitt, Donegal town.

The court heard that Hughes had drunk between eight and ten vodka and Redbull drinks in a local bar that evening. He then drove his girlfriend’s black Mini Cooper at speed through the crowd of people. Participants were forced to jump out of the way as stewards and gardaí attempted to stop the car.

Inspector Denis Joyce said one garda had to move out of the way of the car after trying to stop it.

The car then struck a participant in the walk who was with his wife and his eight-year-old son.

The man suffered soft-tissue injuries to his right hip and back.

Hughes then crashed the vehicle, and a blood test showed he had a drink driving limit of 208 milligrammes of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood.

The court heard that Hughes had no previous convictions but had received cautions for a minor road traffic offence and a public order offence.

Hughes made a full statement to gardaí and said he had no memory of the incident, and could not remember driving through the crowd or striking the pedestrian.

He remembered drinking in a local bar with friends and the next memory he had was being arrested.

He said he had been drinking all night, and had no memory of seeing the people taking part in the walk, although he accepted he drove through the crowd at speed.

Hughes told gardaí he was extremely sorry. “I apologise to all the people and families,” he said. “I am extremely embarrassed about the whole thing. It is eating me up inside.”

Hughes’s mother told the court that she had been doing the walk with her husband and her sister. When it was put to her by Mr Crawford that the car could have struck her, she replied: “Yes. He was very apologetic. I was horrified and very angry.”

Mrs Hughes outlined to the court that her son had suffered from depression which had kept him at home for 18 months.

She said her son was very apologetic. “He has told me he is carrying an awful lot in his chest.”

Defence counsel Damien Crawford said that Hughes had been very busy at work in the days before the incident and he had drunk an unusual combination of drinks on the evening that he had not drunk for some time.

Mr Crawford said Hughes had had a difficulty with depression, adding that he had a clean driving record. He said he remembered nothing about the incident other than there being a traffic restriction in place in the area and that he had become disoriented.

He said the incident was completely out of character and it was due to a bout of drinking that did not agree with him.

Judge Kevin Kilrane said Hughes had drunk so much on the night that it had obliterated his mind completely.

“He was absolutely out of his mind and he can’t remember a thing. He can’t remember people scurrying out of his way as he drove through the crowd,” he said. “What happened here was absolutely shocking – driving at speed through a crowd of people who were lucky they were able to scurry and jump out of his way. It was a situation of absolute panic.

“It is lucky that we are not dealing with multiple fatalities today. This is a shocking tale of woe from end to end, all caused by the consumption of alcohol.”

Judge Kilrane said that Hughes came across as a decent, hardworking young man.

Addressing Hughes, the judge said: “This is a shocking mistake you have made, but there is life after this mistake. I don’t want to think you will go into another episode of depression.”

The judge said he would deal with the case as leniently as possible and disqualified Hughes for three and a half years for drink driving and fined him €200. He also fined him €400 for two dangerous driving charges and €200 for failing to stop for a garda.

Charges of failing to remain at the scene were struck out.

The disqualification was suspended until January 1st and Hughes made an undertaking not to drink and drive.