Limerick man was almost twice legal alcohol limit

Anne Sheridan

Reporter:

Anne Sheridan

A LIMERICKMAN who denies dangerous driving causing the death of an elderly couple nearly four years ago had nearly twice the legal limit of alcohol in his system, Limerick Circuit Court has heard.

A LIMERICKMAN who denies dangerous driving causing the death of an elderly couple nearly four years ago had nearly twice the legal limit of alcohol in his system, Limerick Circuit Court has heard.

Michael Harty, 30, of St Mary’s Terrace, Askeaton, has pleaded not guilty to dangerous driving causing the death of Maurice Hartnett, 61, and his wife Margaret, 59, from Gurteen, Ballingarry, on July 29, 2009.

Dr Ned Barrett, consultant clinical biochemist at the Mid-Western Regional Hospital, told the court that a toxicology reading from the defendant after the collision showed that he had a reading of 153.9 mg of alcohol per millilitres of blood. The legal limit is 80 mg/100ml.

Dr Barrett said that even though the accused suffered a loss of blood during the accident this would not affect the blood/alcohol level.

“A leak does not change the composition of the remaining blood,” he said.

Kevin O’Connell, a laboratory manager in the hospital, was accused by the defence in court of breaching the National Hospitals’ Office code of practice in relation to healthcare records management.

Mr O’Connell was asked by investigating gardai at Askeaton station to supply a “medical report for the injuries sustained” by Mr Harty, after gardai submitted a consent form from the accused.

However, the lab manager also included the accused’s biomedical report, which disclosed the confidential toxicology results.

Anthony Sammon, SC, for the defence, said it would seem that Mr O’Connell breached this code of practice.

“There was nothing from Mr Harty to say that his medical chart was part of this. A medical report of his injuries was what he consented to,” said Mr Sammon.

Mr O’Connell said he understood that the laboratory report “forms part of the medical file.”

Kerry McAuliffe, a nurse in the A&E department of the Regional, took five sample of blood from the defendant.

Now the hospital manager at night, she testified under cross-examination that staff are governed by a code of ethics, which includes the confidentiality of medical records.

She said she wouldn’t hand out such details if asked to, even by gardai or a barrister.

In relation to the analysis of blood samples in the biochemistry laboratory, the court heard the Regional processes in the region of two million of these a year.

The defence maintained that staff can be liable to make errors, and that the software and machinery used to break down samples into different components for analysis can also break down.

Mr O’Connell conceded that the error rate is “probably less than 0.1%”, further explaining that this would amount to some 54 erroneous samples out of several thousand per day.

The jury of seven men and five women has heard that the collision involves a Volkswagon Caddy van, driven by Mr Hartnett, and a Toyota 4x4, driven by the accused, at Ardtomin, Askeaton on the main road between Askeaton and Rathkeale.

It is the prosecution’s case that the collision happened on a bad stretch of road where there are a number of bad bends.

Judge Carroll Moran heard this Wednesday that this was not a head-on collision, with the Toyota hitting the VW at the driver’s side, and the footwell area in the deceased’s car was completely obliterated as a result. Gardai believe that both vehicles may have been marginally across the continuous white line.

Sergeant Kevin Burke told the court that he performed numerous tests on that stretch of roadway, where the speed limit is 80k/hr. However, he said this was not a “comfortable speed” when he drove in the centre of the road.

Gardai believed that both victims were not wearing their seatbelts at the time. The defendant was wearing his seatbelt at the time. There was no evidence of faults in the vehicles or defects in the road, though the road was wet at the time.

The speeds of both vehicles at the time could not be calculated due to the damage caused. The impact between both vehicles was described as “colossal”.

The 4X4 was airborne as a result of the collision, while the VW got stuck in a ditch, after leaving a gouge of some 20 metres long in the roadway behind it after the point of impact.

The trial is likely to conclude this Friday.