‘Airborne’ drunk driver crashed into garda car

Gerard Fitzgibbon

Reporter:

Gerard Fitzgibbon

Judge Mary Larkin
A NATIONAL school teacher who was driving while drunk “became airborne” and crashed into a garda patrol car after losing control of his vehicle near Foynes, a court has heard.

A NATIONAL school teacher who was driving while drunk “became airborne” and crashed into a garda patrol car after losing control of his vehicle near Foynes, a court has heard.

Two gardai were injured and their patrol car was written off in the crash at Barrigone, Foynes on January 28, 2012. The driver of the other vehicle, Tomás O Flátharta, aged 23, of Doire Lochain Thair, Spiddal, Galway, has appeared at Newcastle West court to face charges of drunk driving and dangerous driving.

Supt Helen Deely told the court last Friday that at 10.45pm the gardai on patrol saw O Flátharta’s vehicle driving towards “a sharp bend”, and moments later lost control of the vehicle, struck a boulder and “became airborne”. The vehicle then struck the left side of the patrol car. The collision caused “extensive damage” to the patrol car, and injured the two gardai who were inside.

O Flátharta was knocked unconscious, and the injured gardai managed to close off the road and alert the emergency services. O Flátharta was hospitalised, but all three parties escaped serious injury in the crash, the court heard.

O Flátharta was later tested for drunk driving and was found to have 188 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood, which is almost four times the legal limit.

Solicitor John Sadlier, defending, said that on the night in question O Flátharta had attended a 21st birthday party and had parked his car in Foynes. He had “intended to lock up the car” and leave it there, but started drinking “too early” and as a result “his reason departed him, and he decided to drive”.

O Flátharta was “initially unconscious, then came through” after the crash happened, and was lucky in that the gardai were able to alert the emergency services instantly, Mr Sadlier said. O Flátharta received “a nasty head injury”, he added.

The court heard that when the gardai met O Flátharta in hospital later that day, the accused’s main concern was the health of the two gardai. “I know I was in the wrong. Once they’re alright, that’s all that matters” the accused said at the time, according to his defence.

Mr Sadlier said that O Flátharta is a national school teacher working in Cork, is a native of the Connemara Gaeltacht and comes from a family which has “a family ethic... to contribute to 
society”.

The court heard that O Flátharta “expresses his regret” for his actions, and wished to plead guilty to the offence at the first opportunity. “He genuinely regrets what happened” and is “embarrassed, as he should be”, Mr Sadlier said.

The court heard that O Flátharta is a GAA coach in his home parish and “tends to go back every weekend”. As such, a driving ban will create significant difficulties for him. “He knows that, and knows that he deserves that”, Mr Sadlier said.

Mr Sadlier asked that “the essential fault is the drink driving”, and asked that the dangerous driving charge be reduced to the lesser offence of careless driving. “He’s taken steps to mend his ways”, Mr Sadlier said.

Judge Mary Larkin said that “you can’t put an old head on young shoulders”, and convicted O Flátharta of drunk driving. However, she acceded to the defence’s request to reduce the dangerous driving charge, instead convicting O Flátharta of careless driving.

The accused received a mandatory three-year driving ban for drunk driving, and total fines of €550.