(Top: Lucia and Jim O’Farrell hold a picture of their late son, Shane)
Shane O’Farrell, 23, died in a hit-and-run just outside Carrickmacross, Co. Monaghan on August 2, 2011. The man who struck Shane, Zigimantas Gridzuiska, 39, from Lithuania, had 42 previous convictions in three different jurisdictions and was out on bail at the time.
After he hit Shane, he drove to his friend’s house, left the car he was driving there and walked to his home where he told his wife he knocked someone down. Neither of them contacted the gardaí or emergency services, and they went to bed.
Gridzuiska pleaded guilty to failing to stop his car at the scene of the accident, failing to failing to report the accident as soon as possible to gardai, and driving a vehicle in a dangerously defective condition. Judge Pat McCartan acquitted him of dangerous driving causing death. Gridzuiska was then given the choice of eight months in prison or to leave the country within 21 days. He chose to leave.
This morning the Dáil heard a debate on the Road Traffic Bill 2013. During the debate Fianna Fáil TD Timothy Dooley proposed that the maximum jail sentence for fleeing the scene of an accident causing injury would be up to 10 years and/or a fine of up to €5,000 instead of the current six months. He also proposed that the length of time a garda can test a hit-and-run suspect for alcohol and drugs be extended from three hours to 24 hours after the incident. Mr Dooley was approached by Shane O’Farrell’s family last summer about these legislation changes. Transport Minister Leo Varadkar said he looked forward to working with Mr Dooley on the bill.
Independent TD Finian McGrath also took part in the debate and brought up the case of Shane O’Farrell. He told the Dáil how the man who knocked down Shane was stopped by gardaí just an hour before the hit-and-run.
He started off by telling how Shane’s mother Lucia came to Dublin to meet Mr McGrath a few weeks ago.
Finian McGrath: “Her beautiful son, Shane, was killed on the 2nd of August, 2011. He was a young student here in college, in Dublin, and he was hit by a hit-and-run person and killed on the side of the road, while that person was out on bail. Now (Lucia) had written to everybody, she had made her case. She had written to the Attorney General, she had written to the Minister for Justice. I actually raised their case in the Dáil and everyone basically said, ‘there was nothing that could be done about it’. And there was an example of a case. And the reason I raise this case, Cathaoirleach, and it’s because it’s very relevant. Because the family themselves feel they’re being let down by the justice system because there was a number of incidences that happened prior to Shane’s death in this hit-and-run killing. And she describes it very, very clearly, a hit-and-run murder. An hour before her son, Shane, was killed, the particular individuals were pulled up an hour earlier at a Garda checkpoint and there was no alcohol on the driver. The driver was asked to switch as he was also uninsured.This implied that an hour earlier he was alcohol free when he murdered her son, Shane. This was not a Garda checkpoint. This was an unmarked drug squad car, sitting in a ditch, that had pulled up this car as the registration was flagged on their system. No breathalyser was used, no drink test at the side of the road. They were asked then to switch the drivers and they were searched. They were waved on. [Reads letter] ‘Our family want to stand up and tell the truth but we knew that that was not allowed. Unfortunately we are law-abiding people and we expected the State to do what they are expected to do: do their job.’ This is a letter from Mrs Lucia O’Farrell, the mother of the victim of this particular case. And there are serious questions to answer in relation to this issue: what was going on in relation to these people and these people involved in her son. And she quotes in her letter as well, and I think it’s appropriate that I mention it. She says “Her lovely son Shane would frequently say ‘you’re guilty of all the wrong you do but you are guilty of all the good you don’t do as well’. And how right he is Cathaoirleach, when I listen to this debate. So what I’m saying is, you’ve the minister in the house today. I’d ask him to look at the Shane O’Farrell case, the 2nd of August, 2011, and find out what’s going on there. I’d also like, and I’ll be contacting the Minister for Justice again on this particular issue. But I’d like to ask what about Shane’s human rights? What about Shane’s constitutional rights? This case should have been about Shane, not about hiding the truth so that some people don’t get into trouble. And the particular individual in this case got off scot-free in relation to this issue.”
Meanwhile, earlier this morning Shane’s sister Gemma O’Farrell spoke with Seán O’Rourke about her brother’s case.
Gemma O’Farrell: “Shane was my only brother. He was 23. He has just finished his Masters in Law in Trinity College, and had just handed in his dissertation, it was the 2nd of August. And he was coming home, he was training for a triathlon which was to take place in a few days time. And he went out for a cycle and he didn’t come home.”
Sean O’Rourke: “A young man, with the world at his feet, clearly a bright guy academically, interested in sport if he was doing a triathlon. What happened him?”
O’Farrell: “Shane went out for a cycle. He was hit from behind by a Lithuanian national who was driving without insurance, without tax, without NCT, who was on bail at the time, who was serving a suspended sentence both sides of the Border and had 40 convictions the night he killed Shane. He was driving at 100km per hour and hit him from behind and didn’t break. He returned back to Carrickmacross. This happened just a couple of miles outside of Carrickmacross and left his car in his friend’s house and walked back 20 minutes to where he lived, where he told his wife that he had knocked someone down and neither of them called the guards or an ambulance and they both went to bed.”
Sean O’Rourke: “How was he traced, that individual?”
O’Farrell: “The gardaí located the car the next morning and I think things unravelled a little bit from there. This gentleman was known to the guards so things kind of unravelled from there.”
O’Rourke: “And how long was Shane left there before he was found? Was he dead when he was found?”
O’Farrell: “He was. He was found a few minutes later, we believe a few minutes later. It was on the N2, outside of Carrickmacross which is a busy road so it was two or three minutes later we believe.”
O’Rourke: “And what time of the day or night was this?”
O’Farrell: “It was about 10 past 10 at night. It was the middle of the summer, it was the 2nd of August so..”
O’Rourke: “So it was bright and..”
O’Farrell: “Well it was between the lights at that stage.”
O’Rourke: “Right. And what happened then, when the matter went to court?”
O’Farrell: “When the matter went to court, this man pleaded guilty to the offences of leaving the scene of an accident. So these are the summary offences, district court offences which carry a maximum of six months, so he pleaded guilty to leaving the scene and failing to call the emergency services. And he also pleaded guilty to driving a defective vehicle on the night.”
O’Rourke: “And the question of dangerous driving was thrown out by the judge, was it?”
O’Farrell: “He was charged with dangerous driving causing death which he was acquitted of by Judge McCartan. The difficulty for my experience, now going through dangerous driving causing death is it’s, as I see it, it’s impossible to show that someone was driving dangerously and prove that beyond a reasonable doubt in the case of a hit-and-run because the vast majority of the time with hit-and-runs there are no witnesses to an accident. So you’re never going to be able to show that the individual was driving dangerously. So there was a lack of evidence and on that basis, the judge acquitted this man.”
O’Rourke: “So, on that particular charge, so what was the maximum sentence that could be imposed then, for leaving the scene of the accident?”
O’Farrell: “The maximum sentence is six months that can be imposed.”
O’Rourke: “But, instead of which, he was given another option?”
O’Farrell: “Yes. So the judge imposed a sentence of eight months, four months for leaving the scene and four months for failing to call the emergency services. So he gave him the option of either serving an eight-month sentence or returning to Lithuania and he chose the latter.”
O’Rourke: “And this was someone who was an acknowledged heroin user, there was no question of him being tested for alcohol or being above the limit because, of what, a time-lapse?”
O’Farrell: “The law, as it stands at the moment, the gardaí only have a three-hour window in which to test someone for alcohol or drugs and this individual wasn’t, didn’t present to the garda station for over 18 hours later so he wasn’t able to be tested for anything when he was in the garda station.”
O’Rourke: “Clearly you weren’t happy with the outcome of this. You lost your only brother, a young man of 23. What prompted you then to take action and say right this isn’t good enough, we need to have a change of the law?”
O’Farrell: “So, last August 2012, so before the case actually came to trial, I approached Fianna Fáil and I raised a number of issues with them. This was one of them. And they really took it on board that this was a loophole in the law and that this was something that could be addressed and a bill was drafted to which was then launched last May by Deputy Timmy Dooley, addressing the law as it stands at the moment. So, while at then moment, it’s a six-month sentence it’s dealt with in the District Court so whether it’s property damage or you cause a fatality, six months, there’s no distinction between the two. The Bill proposes to introduce a maximum sentence of 10 years which is in line with other jurisdictions, so where you cause a fatality, a maximum sentence of 10 years may be imposed.”
Full interview here.