A Ballinamore man appeared in Carrick-on-Shannon District Court charged with driving with no insurance and failing to remain at the scene of a fatal road traffic accident in which his friend was killed. Ciaran McHugh, Church St, Ballinamore pleaded guilty to the offences which occurred on September 4, 2019 at Drumna, Cloone.
Mr McHugh had been driving in front of his friend, Alan Crowe, who was riding a motorcycle. Mr McHugh pulled in to allow a bus to pass on the narrow road but Mr Crowe collided with the bus and was killed.
Sgt Ronan Mooney outlined the details of the case to the court and read out the various witness statements taken.
Eileen Gallagher, Drumna, Cloone said that on that date she came down her lane onto the Ballinamore to Cloone road. She saw a school bus stopped on the road. There was a red car stopped on the road and a motorbike on the road under the front wheel of the bus.
She realised there was an accident and the rider had gone under the bus. She said the young man in the red car was in shock and she brought him up to the house and offered him some tea or coffee but he asked for something stronger to steady his nerves and she gave him some whiskey.
Liam McGovern, Sub Officer Ballinamore Fire Service, said that a call went off at 7.40am on that date. He proceeded to the incident where he approached the side of the bus and was told by a first responder the casualty was under the bus. He was lying behind the front axle of the bus.
He said there was a red car parked at the entrance to the driveway and he asked the young man to move it to give them more access to the scene. They lifted the bus with airbags from both Ballinamore and Mohill fire stations and handed the casualty to the ambulance crew. He said he was not aware until later that day that the car he had asked to be moved was involved in the incident. He said if he was aware, he would not have asked him to move it.
John Conway, Station Officer, Ballinamore Fire Station, said they were called out to the accident and on arrival he had the keys of a vehicle which was required by the owner in Ballinamore.
He saw Ciaran McHugh and asked him was he travelling towards Ballinamore, Mr McHugh said he was and he asked him to bring the keys with him back to Ballinamore. He drove off in the direction of Ballinamore. At that stage Mr Conway said he didn’t know Ciaran McHugh was in any way involved. The owner of the keys texted him later to say Ciaran McHugh had delivered them.
Sgt Mooney’s own statement said he went to the scene of the collision. He said the Ballinamore Fire Service was already on the scene.
He said the bus had damage to its front and was parked tightly to the hedge. There was a motorcycle on the ground at the front of the bus. The Gardai took control of directing traffic and gathered details from witnesses.
He said the ambulance and Mohill Fire Service arrived and the bus was elevated and the casualty removed. He was unresponsive and had no signs of life. He identified the motorcyclist as Alan Crowe from Leer, Mohill who he knew. Dr Sean Bourke arrived at the scene and pronounced death at 9.07am and the body was removed to the mortuary at Sligo Hospital.
Sgt Mooney said the driver of the bus was Caillian Ellis, Fenaghbeg, Ballinamore. As he was involved in a road traffic collision he was requested to give a sample of his breath which indicated a pass. He said Mr Ellis was clearly in shock and was treated at the scene by ambulance personnel and removed to hospital.
Mr Crowe’s parents, James and Carmel, formally identified their son that evening.
Ciaran McHugh had come back to the scene and Sgt Mooney said he made himself known to the Gardai. He said he had been socialising with Alan Crowe the previous evening, they had travelled to Alan’s home that morning to collect clothes.
He said he was driving the car towards Ballinamore with Alan riding behind on the motorcycle when he met the bus and pulled in to let the bus pass. He then heard a loud bang and saw the motorcycle on the ground. He said he had a driving licence but did not have insurance to drive the VW Golf belonging to Alan Crowe.
On February 4, 2020, Mr McHugh met Sgt Mooney by appointment in Carrick-on-Shannon Garda Station to give a statement, accompanied by his solicitor, John McNulty. He said the day prior to the accident he met Alan Crowe who picked him up at 5.30pm and they went to Cox’s in Dromod and stayed for an hour. They came back to the Bank Bar in Ballinamore and both had a pint.
They met up with others and ‘spun’ around for a while before going back to a friend’s house where they stayed until about 2am or 2.30am. He said they had two or three cans to drink.
Mr Crowe then drove back to Mr McHugh’s house in Ballinamore where they put on some tunes and stayed until about 6am. He said the plan was to stay there. He said he didn’t want to let him go driving home and told him to stay on the couch. He said Mr Crowe had it in his head to go home and that was it.
Mr McHugh said he thought the best idea was for him to drive Mr Crowe’s car to his house. Mr Crowe got out of the car and went into his house to get his uniform for work while Mr McHugh swapped into another car, a red VW Golf. He looked in the mirror and saw Mr Crowe pushing a motorbike out onto the road.
Mr Crowe told him he was alright and to trust him. Mr McHugh said he would drive in front of him and told him not to pass him out. He said Mr Crowe was behind him the whole time but about 1km before the accident he looked back but couldn’t see him. He said he went about 40-50mph the whole way. He said he could then hear him coming on the bike.
As Mr McHugh rounded a corner he could see a bus and slowed down and pulled in to a gap to let it past. He said the bus was just about to come past him when Mr Crowe came around the corner and either glanced off the Golf or went directly into the bus.
He said he got out and a woman brought him up to her house and gave him a drink. He said the fire officer, John Conway asked him to drop a set of keys to Ballinamore which he did. A neighbour later ran him back out to the scene of the accident.
Mr McNulty said he was surprised a charge of failing to remain at the scene of an accident was brought against Mr McHugh. He said Mr McHugh acted under the direction of the fire service who were in charge of the scene at the time. He said his friend had gone under the bus and he was in shock.
Judge Kevin Kilrane complimented Sgt Mooney on his “forensic and detailed investigation of the accident.”
He said it was an extremely tragic accident where two young men were driving along the road and Mr McHugh was concerned about Mr Crowe’s ability to drive and took precautions to drive in front of him.
He said the road is relatively narrow and a bus of that size would cause both parties to pull in.
He said Mr McHugh did everything right, he stopped the car, the bus pulled in. Mr Crowe unfortunately failed to notice the car was stopped and it would appear he lost control of the motorcycle and struck the front of the bus and was thrown off the bike and his body went under the bus..
He said the defendant must have been shocked beyond belief that his friend was under the bus and there was total panic. Mr Ellis the driver was also in shock.
Judge Kilrane said the Fire Brigade came out and were faced with “a very serious problem to raise the bus safely to retrieve the body under it.”
The firemen, he said, asked Mr McHugh to move his car to give them as much space as possible and he said their actions were entirely reasonable.
Judge Kilrane said Mr McHugh drove the car into Ballinamore but came back out again to the scene.
“That must have been a very difficult decision because he must have known that his friend was probably dead at that stage,” he said.
Judge Kilrane agreed with Mr McNulty that having been directed to leave the scene and the shock he suffered, it was easy to understand his mind wouldn’t have been in the right place.
He said nothing Mr McHugh did caused the accident or there was no suggestion he moved the car to avoid detection for no insurance or to frustrate the Gardai.
He said there may have been a technical breach but it would be “harsh and disproportionate to convict on that” and he dismissed that charge.
The court heard Mr McHugh has no previous convictions. He currently works on construction on the Intel site in Leixlip. He lives with his father in Longford during the week and travels up and down and needs his licence.
Judge Kilrane said he could not allow the tragic nature of the accident to influence him in regard to the insurance. He said he is obliged to disqualify unless there was a good reason shown not to and he said there was such a reason in this case.
He said at the time of the accident Mr McHugh was driving back to Ballinamore and trying to take care of Mr Crowe by driving carefully in front of him. He said it was obvious he was driving carefully because he was able to stop and pull in to allow the bus to pass.
He said Mr McHugh needed his licence and because there was a fatality involved it could not influence him.
He convicted and fined Mr McHugh €300 for the offence, allowing three months to pay and did not disqualify him.
Judge Kilrane expressed his condolences to the Crowe family, as did Mr McHugh and Sgt Gallagher on behalf of An Garda Siochana.