A man’s explanation that he wasn’t the one driving a car that fled Gardaí at speed before crashing, despite jumping out the driver side door right after the crash, failed to sway the judge at Galway District Court.
William McDonagh (27), with an address at Tuam Halting Site, said he that was asleep in the back seat of the car while it was being pursued by Gardaí in the very early hours of September 24 of 2017, only waking up when it crashed.
He was one of five people in the car that night, and claimed that the person who was driving immediately got into the front passenger seat, the front passenger squeezed into the back, and he fled out the front driver door because he thought that this was the result of a argument with another family.
McDonagh was convicted of three charges of dangerous driving, as well as drunk driving, and failing to stop after being required to by the Gardaí.
Sgt Tom Doyle told Galway District Court that at approximately 2am on the night in question he was parked at the entrance to Srutha Mhuirlinne estate on the Castlepark Road in Galway City.
He saw a silver Volkswagen Passat with a broken front light pull out across the road in an unsafe fashion heading towards Ballybane, and followed after it.
As he was a detective at the time of this incident, Sgt Doyle was in an unmarked car, and in plainclothes.
When he activated the lights and sirens the car accelerated, going through the roundabout on onto the old Dublin Road. At this point Sgt Doyle estimated the car was going approximately 120km/hr.
On two occasions the car crossed to the wrong side of the road to pass others, including at a red light at the Doughiska Road junction.
At the Coolagh roundabout the driver lost control and hit the side of the roundabout itself, damaging the front wheel and making it impossible for the car to keep going.
Sgt Doyle saw the driver jump out of the car and run in the direction of Fearr an Ri estate.
Two other officers arrived on the scene and he them gave a description of the McDonagh while he went to speak to the other passengers in the car, three women and one man.
The man, Jimmy Conroy, who was in the front passenger seat of the car, was later identified as the registered owner.
This man was the one who was driving on the night, the defence claimed, saying that he “spun a yarn” to deflect attention from himself, but Sgt Doyle said he had “no doubt” that McDonagh was the one driving.
McDonagh was arrested at Fearr an Rí after being pursued by Detective Garda Bernard McLoughlin. Back at Galway Garda Station he was identified by Garda Doyle as the man he had seen.
A breath test at the station returned a result of 26mg of alcohol per 100ml of breath, over the legal limit of 22mg for a fully licenced driver.
Giving evidence himself, Mr McDonagh said he had been out at a wedding with his wife that night, where he had an argument with another family.
Conroy offered to give him, his wife, and his sister a lift afterwards he said. McDonagh claimed that he fell asleep in the middle of the back seat, and only “woke with a bang” when the car crashed.
Conroy’s partner, who was in the front passenger seat, clambered into the back while Conroy himself shifted over to the passenger side he claimed.
For his part, he said that he panicked and climbed out the front because it was empty, believing that this was related to the earlier argument.
It was impossible that this sequence of events could have happened in such a short space of time, the prosecution said.
Judge Mary Fahy accepted the evidence of the state, saying that McDonagh did “everything he could to evade arrest”, including a number of very dangerous incidents.
This matter had been dragging on since 2017 the judge added, noting that he took several bench warrants, including after getting bail from the High Court.
At the time of this incident McDonagh was not allowed to be behind the wheel, as he was serving a ten year disqualification from driving imposed at Tuam District Court.
Additional charges of driving without insurance, and failure to produce a licence and insurance had to be struck out as the state didn’t remember to give any evidence of them.
Judge Fahy sentenced him to six months in prison for the dangerous driving at the Doughiska Road junction, four months consecutive to that for drunk driving, and one month for failing to stop when required.
The other two dangerous driving charges each received a one month concurrent sentence.
Judge Fahy declined a plea to suspend the sentence, saying that McDonagh “endangered everyone on the road” and that he could have dealt with this issue long ago.
Recognisance was fixed in the event of an appeal.