Pedestrian severely injured in collision after driver had blackout

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Galway Daily courts
credit: Robert Linsdell CC BY 2.0 'The Courthouse, Courthouse Square, Galway'

A pedestrian was left with severe injuries after she was struck by a car in January of last year, where the elderly driver said that she had a blackout.

Mary O’Connell (79), of St James Crescent, Mervue was accompanied by her son at Galway Circuit Court, after previously pleading guilty to dangerous driving causing serious injury.

Garda Declan Murphy gave evidence to the court that on January 16 of 2020, he was patrolling in a car when they came upon the scene of an accident at the westside end of the Wolfe Tone Bridge.

Mrs Nora Duffy was part of a running group crossing near Gourmet Tart on the Fr Griffin Road, when was struck by a car that went into the wrong lane and sped off.

While he was at the scene of the incident, Garda Murphy was informed of a single vehicle car accident just ahead, at Joyce’s supermarket. A car had collided with a wall, and an ambulance was at the scene.

Dashcam footage from a car behind Mrs O’Connell’s as they travelled from Lough Atalia showed her car indicating to turn left. However, she then overtook into the wrong lane and accelerated, striking a pedestrian in the group.

When Garda Murphy later took a statement from Mrs O’Connell on April 28, she said that she got a cramp in both legs, and didn’t remember anything after that until the ambulance crew her from her car, and that she must have blacked out.

Garda Murphy said that she had never come to the attention of Gardaí prior to this, and had a full licence. The car was also fully taxed, insured, and was roadworthy.

Defence Barrister Gary McDonald said that his client had no memory of the incident, and didn’t even know that someone had been hurt until the day she was charged.

In a victim impact statement which she read to the court herself, Nora Duffy said that she lived a very “independent and active life” prior to this incident, which was badly affected.

The collision left her in “shock and severe pain”, with seven crushed bones and two large open wounds, which had to heal open.

She spent a week in hospital, and after coming home she had to have a hospital bed moved into her downstairs living room, because she wasn’t able to get to her bedroom upstairs.

An external fixator had to be attached to her right leg for six months while fractures healed according to a medical report before the court.

The report also said that further x-rays would be required to determine the risk of arthritis in her right ankle due to the damage sustained.

Mrs Duffy said that she was on crutches up to last November, and still experiences restricted movement in her foot. She hasn’t been able to return to work since the incident, as it requires her to be on her feet all day.

This has “put me through torture”, Nora Duffy said, but she also said that she was blessed to be alive, and that she had a “guardian angel” by her that night.

Mr McDonald said that he was instructed to apologise to Mrs Duffy, saying “everybody is a loser here”, and that Mrs O’Connell also had to spend three weeks in hospital after her crash.

Her doctor had seen her ten days before this, on January 16, and had not raised any issues that would have said she was unfit to drive.

That evening, she was on her way to bingo in Salthill, and while there was speed involved in the collision, he said that this was as a result of the blackout.

There was no alcohol involved in the incident, Mr McDonald said, and his has no intention of getting back behind the wheel again.

Judge Rory McCabe said that Mrs Duffy’s statement showed “a perfect example of the vulnerability of a pedestrian”.

He added that the dash cam footage played for the court was “truly shocking”, and showed driving that was obviously dangerous.

“Perhaps she had a blackout,” Judge McCabe said, but he also said that there seemed to have been a “deliberate decision” to first turn on the indicator, and then to drive on the wrong side of the road.

Judge McCabe said that while the consequences of this incident were “disastrous”, there was no intent which could be proved beyond a reasonable doubt, and so he viewed the mental element at the lower end of the scale of gravity.

Taking into account her plea, the fact that she is no longer driving, her own injuries, and the apology in court, the judge said that an immediate prison sentence would not be in the interests of justice.

He imposed an eighteen month sentence, but suspended it all unconditionally, and disqualified Mrs O’Connell from driving for 15 years.