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Clare man not guilty of dangerous driving causing death of friend

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A MILTOWN Malbay man has been found not guilty of dangerous driving causing the death of his friend in a single-vehicle collision three years ago.
The jury returned the verdict at Ennis Circuit Court at the conclusion of the trial of Tadgh O’Neill.
Mr O’Neill (22), with an address at Poulawilliam, Miltown Malbay, and who previously lived and worked in Glasgow and London, pleaded not guilty to dangerous driving causing the death of Inagh man Alan Rynne (30) at Caherogan, near Miltown Malbay on June 18, 2018.
At the outset of the trial, Mr O’Neill pleaded guilty to driving while in excess of the legal alcohol limit and driving without insurance. He is due to be sentenced for those offences on July 22.
Mr Rynne was a back seat passenger in a Volkswagen Golf driven by Mr O’Neill when it crashed into a bridge on a country road in the early hours of June 18, 2018.
Members of Mr O’Neill’s family shed tears after the jury returned the verdict.
Thanking the jury for their service, Judge Brian O’Callaghan said this had been a “sensitive and difficult case to assess”.
Judge O’Callaghan offered condolences to the Rynne family and said this was a “tragedy for all involved”.
The trial heard that when Mr O’Neill was interviewed by gardaí and asked what could have caused the accident, he responded, “I can’t say. I could’ve fallen asleep. I can’t say.
“I’m sorry for what has happened. I didn’t set out to do anything wrong,” Mr O’Neill added.
In his closing speech, defence counsel, Michael Collins SC, told the jury that under cross examination detective Garda TJ Molloy had agreed there was no evidence of excessive speed.
Counsel said this was borne out by the evidence of PSV inspector, Garda Brendan Condon who said the speedometer of the red Volkswagen Golf driven by Mr O’Neill was stuck at 50km/h when it was examined.
Mr Collins said there was no evidence that Mr O’Neill had been “bombing it” prior to this accident.
Counsel said Mr O’Neill did not have the benefit of cats’ eyes and the reflective signs on the bridge were significantly obstructed by overgrown vegetation.
“It was dark, it was wet,” he added.
Counsel said it was the prosecution’s case that Mr O’Neill was “labouring under intoxication” when the crash occurred.
Mr Collins said that while Mr O’Neill was intoxicated there is “no evidence Tadgh O’Neill was labouring under intoxication when he was driving”.
Counsel referred the jury to the evidence of another witness David Fox, a front seat passenger who Mr O’Neill dropped home prior to the accident.
Counsel said that when asked about Mr O’Neill’s driving, Mr Fox said, “I remember nothing out of the way anyway.”
Counsel said, “That is the only evidence you have of driving and the manner of driving in this case.”
The jury was asked by Counsel to consider if the crash occurred as a result of “momentary inadvertence” or “distraction”.
He told the jury it was also open to them to return an alternative verdict of a lesser count of careless driving causing death.
In his closing speech to the jury, counsel for the State, Lorcan Connolly BL, reminded the jury of the evidence of PSV inspector, Garda Condon who said the car Mr O’Neill drove on the night was in good roadworthy condition, had no steering or brake defects and was fitted with ABS.
“No fault can be attributed to the vehicle,” counsel said.
Mr Connolly said the road on which the collision occurred was a “virtually straight stretch of road” and was very near the accused’s home.
He said weather conditions were normal and there was no traffic, “no dazzling headlights”.
Counsel asked the jury not to “fall into the trap in relation to (no) road markings or cats eyes”.
“This bridge was illuminated left and right,” he added.
Counsel said Mr O’Neill had already pleaded guilty to drink driving and told gardaí in interview that he had “no idea” how much he had drank on the day in question.
The trial heard evidence from a number of witnesses.
Dr Linda Mulligan, chief State pathologist, gave evidence to the court, via video link, that she performed an autopsy on the body of the late Mr Rynne at University Hospital Limerick on June 18, 2018.
Dr Mulligan told the jury that the cause of Mr Rynne’s death was multiple, traumatic injuries sustained during a single-vehicle collision.
She also concluded that cardiomyopathy – evidence of which was detected during the autopsy – was a background contributory factor.
The jury heard details of the interview given by Mr O’Neill to Detective Garda TJ Molloy and Garda Dominic Curtin at Ennistymon Garda station on December 22, 2018.
Mr O’Neill said he had attended the Munster hurling match between Clare and Limerick in Ennis on the day prior to the accident.
Mr O’Neill said he had one pint of Heineken in Ennis and later went to pubs in Inagh, Miltown Malbay and Mullagh.
The jury heard Mr O’Neill was out socialising with a group of friends.
The group separated in Miltown Malbay and rejoined to travel to Mullagh later that night.
Mr O’Neill told gardaí he was driving his sister’s red Volkswagen Golf when he dropped one of the group, David Fox, home.
Mr O’Neill told gardaí he had “no idea” what time he left Mullagh and the next thing he remembers is getting out of the car after the accident.
Mr O’Neill said he broke his elbow “off the steering wheel maybe”.
Asked if he noticed if there was much damage to the car, Mr O’Neill said, “No, it was the least of my concerns.”
Asked what speed he thought the car was travelling, Mr O’Neill said, “I don’t know. I wasn’t going fast anyway.”
The jury heard Mr O’Neill is familiar with the road and lives less than a mile from the scene of the crash.
Asked if he thought “excessive speed” was a factor in damaging the bridge, Mr O’Neill said, “I wouldn’t think so, no.”
Mr O’Neill was asked how much he had drank on the day and said, “I don’t know. I’ve no idea.”
He told gardaí it was “All Heineken.”
Asked what he thought could have caused the accident, Mr O’Neill said, “I can’t say. I could’ve fallen asleep. I can’t say.”
Asked if he thought he was going too fast, Mr O’Neill said, “I wouldn’t think so.”
The jury heard that at the end of the interview, Mr O’Neill said to the gardaí present, “I’m sorry for what has happened. I didn’t set out to do anything wrong”.
By Ronan Judge

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