A driver whom a Judge said will be “weighed down” after killing his close friend after pleading guilty to dangerous driving has escaped going to prison.
Seosamh McGonigle sped away from a pub in Inishowen before killing his friend John Hegarty a short time later.
McGonigle, 19, was driving at speed before he hit a grass verge, lost control of his Toyota Corolla and then crossed the road and struck a large boulder.
McGonigle and his front seat passenger survived the smash but Mr Hegarty, who was not wearing a seatbelt in the back of the car, was killed.
McGonigle pleaded guilty to dangerous driving causing death and having no insurance when he appeared at Letterkenny Circuit Court.
Judge John Aylmer said as there were no witnesses to the accident, it was difficult to establish what the exact circumstances of the crash were.
He said evidence had been given of two cars speeding away from the Foot Inn in Burnfoot in July, 2015 but said it wasn’t possible to establish the identity of these cars.
He said that normally such an incident would merit a sentence of two years in prison but he must take into consideration that McGonigle had no previous convictions, was of impeccable character and had pleaded guilty.
He said he was reducing the sentence to sixteen months in jail.
However, Judge Aylmer said he felt this was one of those “rare and tragic cases” which could be dealt with with a non-custodial sentence.
“He is on the cusp of his life and I accept he will be weighed down dealing with the death of his friend…” he said.
He suspended the entire jail sentence for two years, ordered McGonigle to undertake the pro-social driver’s course and banned him from driving for six years.
The accused man’s family wept as the sentence was passed while Mr Hegarty’s family left the courtroom.
Mrs Mary Hegarty had previously paid tribute to her late son at the court as harrowing details of the night on which he was killed were revealed.
Mrs Hegarty told how she knelt beside her son at the scene of the brutal crash on the night of July 12th, 2015.
She thought her son had simply been injured in the crash but as she made her way through the Garda cordon, another person sympathised with her.
She told how she knelt beside her son while her husband cradled his head and another brother lay on top of him in grief.
“It was the worst night of my life. To this day we do not remember leaving the scene,” she said.
She described her tragic son as a mammy’s boy who phoned home from wherever he was and wasn’t embarrassed by it.
She added that he had great respect for people, loved music, knew the words to all songs and loved playing guitar.
Mrs Hegarty said John was missed dearly by all his family including his brothers and sisters and young brother Ronan with whom he shared so much time.
Mrs Hegarty concluded “All we have is beautiful memories which we will treasure forever.
“His death could have been prevented – the loss of our beautiful brother and son is a cross we will have to carry for the rest of our lives.”
She added that none of her son’s friends who had been at the scene had called to her home since the crash.
Garda Sergeant Stephen Lynch told how the accused had come to collect John Hegarty and Lee McDermott at the pub but had not been drinking at all.
However, when he left the pub it was likely that he was driving at speed before hitting a grass margin and then losing control of the car before it hit a boulder after crossing to the opposite side of the road at Carnashannagh, Burnfoot.
Barrister for the accused, Mr Richard Lyons, said his client, who is from Glackmore, Muff, had put his hands up from an early stage and had returned from Australia to appear in court.
He said his client was deeply remorseful for what had happened and had not been behind the wheel of a car since.
He said his client had attended Mr Hegarty’s funeral but had not deemed it appropriate to call to the family home with the pending court case.