By Declan Brennan and Brion Hoban, 23 February 2022
A young driver who drove through a red light and knocked down a pedestrian who died has received a fully suspended sentence.
Lawyers for Letitia Barry (22) told Dublin Circuit Criminal Court that there were unusual features at the pedestrian crossing at Whitestown Road, in Rush, Co Dublin which made the position of the victim somewhat invisible to a driver at a certain point.
The court heard that local man John Byrne had used the road crossing many times before and always waited for the pedestrian green light before crossing.
A forensic analysis of the lights sequencing indicated that there was a gap of six seconds between the vehicular lights going red and the pedestrian light going green.
After her car hit him John Byrne was flipped in to the air.
His head hit the kerb and he was brought to hospital and died as a result of the head injuries sustained.
Barry stayed at the scene after the collision and she and other members of the public tried to provide some comfort to Mr Byrne with blankets.
In her later statement to gardaí, Barry said that she was approaching the junction when her friend who was the front seat passenger shouted “he is going to run”.
She said she slammed on the brakes and the car swerved.
She said she didn’t remember if the light was green or red, or how fast she was going.
An analysis of her mobile phone showed no evidence to suggest she was using it while driving and analysis of the tyre braking marks on the road indicated she was driving within the speed limit of 50km/hr.
Witnesses told gardaí that the traffic lights were red for drivers when Mr Byrne “took off in a run from the footpath”.
One woman said she saw Mr Byrne’s foot go out onto the road and the car hitting him with a thud.
Collision investigators found that the car was in good working order, but that the swerving tyre marks were consistent with the brakes locking up.
They found the ABS dashboard light indicated a fault, but could not say if this was showing before the collision.
A garda report noted that the location of “street furniture” such as lamp standards and the traffic lights, had a tendency to obscure pedestrians from drivers at the point Mr Byrne had been standing.
The report stated the layout was not in accordance with the relative manual for the ideal placement of street furniture.
Barry of Rivermeade Park, St Margarets, Dublin, pleaded guilty to driving a car without due care and attention, thereby causing the death of John Byrne.
Sergeant Derek Dalton accepted a submission from defending counsel Conor Devally SC that if the defendant had seen a red light she would not have run it.
Counsel said that his client was a “relatively inexperienced” driver, having received her full licence three months earlier.
A relative of Mr Byrne told the court that death of their “son, brother and uncle” has irrevocably changed the lives of his family.
She said that Mr Byrne was a gentle, kind and very sociable man who had many friends in the area and a wide range of interests, including discos and GAA.
She said the loss is a daily pain for them, “the pain and grief knowing we will never see his smile or hear his laugh again”.
She said the family continue to receive letters of gratitude from families who benefited from the organs donated by Mr Byrne on his death.
Mr Devally told the court that his client has had great difficulty in coping with the results of her actions.
“At all times she intended to fulfil her duties as a driver. She failed in this instance,” he said.
Passing sentence today, Judge Melanie Greally said that Mr Byrne was in no way responsible for the accident and that he had acted exactly as one should at a pedestrian crossing.
Judge Greally said everything said about Mr Byrne “conveyed a vivid picture of him as a loveable, larger than life young man”.
She said he “brought brightness into the lives of others” and it is no surprise “the void he has left is enormous”.
The judge said the principle fault factor was the failure by the accused to be alert to the pedestrian crossing and that the light was red.
She said the lapse was more than a split second, that it lasted nine seconds from when the amber light illuminated.
She said the mitigating factors included Barry’s plea of guilty, her co-operation, her lack of previous convictions and her youth.
She said she took into account that Barry will “forever bear the heavy burden of having caused the death of another”.
Judge Greally sentenced Barry to eight months imprisonment, but suspended the sentence in its entirety on strict conditions.
She said she did so due to the combination of the lack of aggravating factors and the number of mitigating factors, in particular Barry being the mother of a young child.
The judge also disqualified Barry from driving for six years.