Inishowen Crash: Shaun Kelly sentenced to four years in prison with two suspended

Shaun Kelly 2A 26-year-old Inishowen man who  pleaded guilty to dangerous driving causing the deaths of eight men has been sentenced to four years in prison with the last two years suspended.

Shaun Kelly of Hill Road, Ballymagan, Buncrana pleaded guilty last July to the charge which relates to a crash on 11 July 2010 between Clonmany and Buncrana.

He has also been banned from driving for ten years.

After the sentence was delivered some family members of those who died patted him on the back as he was taken away - others were in tears.

Earlier the court heard that on the night on the crash Kelly was driving a Volkswagen Passat which collided with a car travelling in the opposite direction driven by Hugh Friel, a 66-year-old man on his way home from bingo.

As a result of the crash Mr Friel and seven young men who were travelling in the car with Kelly were all killed.

They were: Eamonn McDaid, 22, of Ballymagan, Buncrana; Mark McLaughlin, 21, of Ballinahone, Fahan; Paul Doherty, 19, of Ardagh, Ballyliffin; Ciaran Sweeney 19, of Ballyliffin; PJ McLaughlin, 21, of Rockstown, Burnfoot; James McEleney, 23, of Meenaduff, Clonmany and Damien McLaughlin, 21, of Umricam, Buncrana.

Alex Owens, prosecuting for the State told Letterkenny Circuit Court that the maximum sentence for the offence is ten years and disqualification from driving for any period up to life.

The court heard that on the night of the crash, Kelly and his friends had been watching the World Cup final in the High Stool Bar in Clonmany. The court was also told that James McElaney had been in a different bar, and met up with the men later on.

Mr Owens said that after the match they all packed into Kelly’s Volkswagen Passat and “sped out” of the town.

They did not use the seat belts and Mr Owens said they were found to be buckled down underneath the front passenger and driver’s seat.

They were travelling towards Buncrana when at about 5.5km outside Clonmany they hit a silver car driven by Ann McGilloway.

Ms McGilloway had overtaken Mr Friel before the impact and she described in her statement to gardaí how she saw a big black car coming towards her “terrible fast” and it veered over the white line onto her side of the road.

She said there was a loud bang and she realised her car had been hit. Her car airbag popped and her car was filled with smoke.

Mr Owens went onto say that Kelly lost control of his car and the back of side his car “fishtailed” and collided with Ms McGilloways front wheel.

Mr Owens then said Mr Kelly’s car then lost control, turning in a clockwise position and crashed into Hugh Friel’s Toyota Corolla. Mr Kelly’s car then proceeded into a ditch and hit a telegraph pole.

Mr Friel died instantly as did the seven passengers in the car with Kelly.

Garda Sergeant Carol Doherty, investigating officer from Buncrana Garda station, was one of the first people on the scene after the crash and described it as one of devastation.

She travelled straight from Carndonagh from the Clonmany direction.

She first came across Ms McGilloways car, and at first she didn’t realise it was as serious to begin.

Sgt Doherty then proceeded a little further up the road, and she said it was soon obvious that there were fatalities.

She said that Kelly was unconscious and the fire roof off the car had to be cut off to get him out.

Sgt Doherty told the court that Kelly and his friends were in high spirits when they left Clonmany and there was a loud screeching from the tyres and a smell of burning rubber as the car left the town at around 10.30pm.

The car was seen to veer over the white line as he drove away and witnesses said he was driving at high speed.

Sgt Doherty said that Kelly was a lorry driver prior to the accident, driving for his father’s company.

The court heard that Kelly had two previous convictions, one prior to the accident and one after it.

He was convicted of dangerous driving on 26 June 2007 at Lisfannon, near the beach when he attempted to pass a car on a blind bend and almost hit a Garda patrol car. Kelly was not disqualified, but was fined €1000.

The second conviction was after the accident in May 2012 when he was convicted of driving a lorry without a rear number plate.

Also on 15 May Kelly was stopped on Buncrana Main St at 240am after he was observed speeding.

Mr Kelly gave a fake name, Christopher O’Donnell, but when he was asked to produce his licence he admitted he was Shaun Kelly.

The court also heard that Shaun Kelly has completed various lorry driving courses.

The court has heard victim impact statements from relatives of the dead men.

Anthony Friel, brother of the Hugh Friel, told Letterkenny Circuit Court that no words can describe how he feels at the loss of his brother.

He said he and his brother took great pride in their farm but he could not bring himself to work on it any more and his world has been turned upside down.

Mr Friel said he had neglected his 14 acre farm since his brother Hughs death.

He said he cannot sleep and often wakes in the early hours and is on medication.

He also told the court that he had contemplated suicide a number of times.

Eamonn Sweeney, whose son Ciaran was killed in the crash, said no words could describe how much his family misses him and there is a void that can never be filled.

However, he said that Ciaran had gotten into Kelly’s car willingly and it is unfair that Kelly be left to take all the blame.

Mr Sweeney said Shaun Kelly needs all the help and support he can get and not punishment.

He also said that as soon as Shaun Kelly was able, he visited his family and expressed immense remorse.

A brief note was read to the court from Mark McLaughlin’s mother who said that she could not write a victim impact statement because nothing can describe what it is like to lose your child.

The court heard earlier that Mr McLaughlin’s father had died tragically in 2013 on the anniversary of his son’s death, his mother had to leave the courtroom in tears at that point.

Damien McLaughlin’s sister Kate said that her family’s hearts had been broken and their lives changed forever. She described her brother as a quiet man of few words with a radiant smile.

She said that her brother was still their first thought every morning and our last thought at night.

PJ McLaughlin’s sister Aoife said that her family have a full life sentence and they are now facing their fifth Christmas without him.

She said PJ was smart, funny, reliable and ambitious and they miss him every day, she said. She said that her brother loved big events like Christmas, Halloween and his birthday, but her family now dread these events.

Ms McLaughlin also said that the way the defence have run the case has made it much more difficult for them. Time and time again the case was put back, she said, and there was a feeling of dread before every court date, more heartbreak and resentment.

James McEleney’s brother Robert described his family’s loss as absolute devastation – their lives were torn apart, he said and as time passes the pain gets no easier.

He described how they suffered sleepless nights, could not eat and just functioned to get through the day – “it’s almost like a nightmare we can’t waken from”, he said. But he also said that he would have never wanted his brother to be in Shaun Kellys position, and his family do not want him sent to prison.

Paul Doherty’s father Felix said no words could describe their loss and the legal process will bring them no closure. He said Shaun Kelly is already serving a life sentence.

And Seamus McDaid whose son Eamonn died in the crash said the family were devastated but their friend Shaun Kelly cannot be forgotten.

He said that Shaun Kelly has suffered enough and he doesn’t want him prosecuted.

Speaking this afternoon Shaun Kelly’s father, Liam, told the court, he was speaking on behalf of his son as he was not able to adequately address the court.

Liam Kelly apologised to all the victims families on Shaun’s behalf.

He said all the boys who were in the car were his sons friends, and they would have visited his household frequently.

Mr Kelly told the court that one of the men who died in the crash was his Godson and nephew.

Shaun Kelly’s father told the court that he wishes he could turn back the clock.

He said before the accident that his son had aspirations to go to work in America. But he said he persuaded him to stay and to continue working for the family business.

Mr Kelly say he often regrets persuading his son.

Liam Kelly also thanked the emergency services and he thanked all the victims families. He says they have given his family great comfort and support. He says his family have never received a harsh word from them and have always received a forgiving attitude from them. Mr Kelly said his family are very grateful for this.

The court also heard that Shaun Kelly suffers daily from the trauma of the accident and he will suffer for the rest of his life.

He said his son has lost his best friends and he asked the judge not to stop the healing process.