"A giant heart and a giant aura": The late Noel McGrath
A MOTORIST involved in a hit-and-run in which former Limerick footballer and prison officer Noel McGrath subsequently died and his wife, Doris, was seriously injured has been jailed for four and-a-half years.
Peter Flynn, aged 34, of Grennanstown, Nenagh, had pleaded guilty to dangerous driving causing death at Carrigatoher, Nenagh, on July 10, 2020.
His nephew, Ben Flynn, of Springmount, Broadford, County Clare, and Kieran McInerney of Doon Road, Broadford, County Clare, had separately admitted impeding the course of a garda investigation on the same date.
Nenagh Circuit Court heard that Peter Flynn had been drinking with his nephew and a friend in the hours before the accident.
After he left the scene he continued drinking in a pub in Broadford, County Clare and only went to the gardaí later that evening after he discovered that Mr McGrath had died.
In a victim impact statement, Mr McGrath's daughter, Audrey, said for Mr Flynn "to leave dad and mum injured in their car without calling assistance was a cowardly act".
She added: "It is almost impossible to comprehend that such a devastating loss occured because of a spineless and heartless deed," she said, speaking on behalf of the McGrath family.
The court heard that Mr McGrath, originally from Oola in County Limerick, and his wife, had been driving an Audi TT convertible with the roof down when they were hit from behind. The vehicle went down a ditch and flipped.
Mr McGrath was trapped in the vehicle and died on his way to University Hospital Limerick. Doris McGrath, who was also taken to UHL, suffered life-changing injuries.
The court heard Mrs McGrath suffered significant mobility issues, was on a number of strong medications for stress and anti-depressants, required physiotherapy once a week, suffered headaches and struggled to sleep to the point of being an insomniac.
She is also receiving counselling on a weekly basis and now lives with her daughter.
The Court heard the car Mr Flynn had been driving was identified through the assistance of people who stopped at the scene. It was traced, by gardai, to Peter Flynn's mother, who said that she had been unable to contact her son.
Sergeant Brian Duddy of Nenagh Garda station, told the court that Mr Flynn had been socialising the previous night and on July 10 collected his nephew Ben Flynn and a Thomas Fitzpatrick in Clare and came to Nenagh for food.
They arrived in Nenagh at 10.06am and were observed on CCTV drinking three or four pints in a bar and having food. They left the premises at 12.40pm.
Sgt Duddy said they got back into their car and Peter Flynn was driving with Ben Flynn in the front passenger seat and Mr Fitzpatrick in the rear.
Mr Fitzpatrick told the gardaí that Mr Flynn had been "driving fast enough" when they left the town. Mr Flynn took the old Limerick to Nenagh road at the motorway junction and was "driving hard".
"He passed a couple of cars. I asked him to slow down. He started driving on the hard shoulder and undertook a car on the inside," Mr Fitzpatrick told gardai.
Sgt Duddy said Mr Fitzpatrick began recording Mr Flynn's driving on his mobile phone and a recording of the comments captured were played in court.
When they came upon Mr McGrath's car Peter Flynn can be heard saying: "This one's going to be tight. Get in out of it, to f***."
After Mr Flynn undertook the first car he came up on Mr McGrath and his wife and hit the convertible. "I looked behind. I didn't see the car. I presumed the convertible went off the road," said Mr Fitzpatrick.
He added that Peter Flynn debated whether or not to return but picked up speed and turned right up a by-road where he pulled in and examined the damage done to his own car, which, Mr Fitzpatrick, said was "only small".
Sgt Duddy told the court that after Peter Flynn took the back road, he drove to a property in Killaloe where he hid the car in a yard after he removed the number plates.
Peter Flynn and a number of other men then got a lift to Broadford, County Clare, arriving at 2.59pm.
"Peter Flynn then spent the day drinking and at around 8.30pm CCTV from the premises showed Peter Flynn pointing out photographs of the collision to the others," said Sgt Duddy.
He said that Peter and Ben Flynn left the bar at 8.45pm and Ben Flynn asked a friend to take Peter Flynn home, but they went to a different house where Mr Flynn was collected by his sister and brought to Nenagh garda station.
Peter Flynn initially stated that Mr McGrath had braked and pulled in but that his reaction "was not as fast as the other man's", and that he clipped him from behind.
"I regret not stopping. I got a fright and stayed going. I dropped my nephew off and went to my sister's. I was so upset and nervous I went to the pub," he told gardai adding that he thought the McGraths were "OK".
"I know now I should have stopped. I automatically came to the garda station when I knew someone was injured," he said.
When asked about his driving, Mr Flynn said he had been "away in my own heading thinking" as he had just broken up with his partner.
Sgt Duddy told the court the defendant had written a letter of apology to the McGrath family but it was not accepted.
In the letter, which was read to the court,, Mr Flynn said: "I am truly sorry for the pain and suffering. I am sorry for taking the life of an innocent man. I know sorry won't change the past. I will not forgive myself. I ask God for forgiveness every day. God made us human and humans make mistakes. I will be mentally punished for what I have done. I know I won't be forgiven but I hope time will heal."
Colman Cody, SC, defending, said that it was a "catalogue of bad decisions that day that has led us here. He didn't set out to kill or cause injuries."
In mitigation he said his client had just broken up with his partner after a number of years and that had an effect on his mental ability to judge situations seriously.
Mr Flynn had retreated into himself, had a history of mental illness and had internalised all his difficulties, said Mr Cody.
Judge Cormac Quinn expressed the court's condolences and sympathy to the McGrath family and said Mr Flynn had driven in a dangerous manner causing death and injury.
He said that it was "breathtaking to imagine anyone would drive in that manner".
He jailed Mr Flynn for six years, but suspended the last 18 months on condition Mr Flynn enter the peace for 18 months on his own bond of €200, and that he engage with the mental health services.
Judge Quinn disqualified Mr Flynn from driving for 10 years.
Charges of failing to remain at the scene of an accident, endangerment, and dangerous driving were taken into account.
Ben Flynn and Kieran McInerney were both remanded on continuing bail to October 4, 2022, to see if they were suitable for the community reparation programme.
Mr McGrath’s death on July 11, 2020, was “needless, violent and totally unexpected,” said daughter Audrey McGrath in her victim impact statement.
she said that no words could truly convey the type of person their dad was.
"To know him was to be in awe of him. He was a giant, not just in the physical sense, but had a giant heart and a giant aura," she said.
She said that Noel was kind, loyal, funny, intelligent, hardworking and compassionate beyond words. He was selfless and his happiness came from seeing other people happy.
Ms McGrath said that many people had reached out to them since his passing, and one had described Noel as "something special. He was fearless as a chief in charge of a prison, but he was also the most decent human being who took time to be a friend when lads like me were going through some dark times."
Ms McGrath said that every time they heard a news report about a fatal road traffic collision, it brought back "that sinking feeling and our thoughts are with the victim’s family. Anyone who knows grief will know that it is all consuming, just empty indescribable pain."
"We lost the best. We have lost so much more than a husband and a dad," said Ms McGrath. "Dad was the pillar in our family."
She said they were now left with saying "Good morning" and "Good night" to his picture, still staring at it in disbelief that they’ll never get the chance to speak to him in person again.
Ms McGrath said that Noel had two grandchildren - Lauren and Noel - but he will never know them and they will never know him.
"This inexcusable incident has altered our lives forever," she said.
She recalled how her mother, Doris, had been physically affected by the accident, not able to attend his wake and only able to go to his funeral in a wheelchair.
Following Noel’s funeral, her mother had to move in with Audrey’s sister, and this had now become permanent as she was no longer capable of living independently.
"Mum has lost the love of her life and her best friend. Mum and dad did everything together; you would never see one without the other," said Ms McGrath.
"We will miss dad and mourn him forever. We remind ourselves of how lucky we were to have him," she said.
Mr McGrath’s son-in-law, Noel O’Reilly said that July 11 was the "day everything changed forever. It is the day I truly understood what the word devastation means."
He said that the entire world had been "suddenly turned upside down. What happened that day was unbearable, unfair and should not have happened. Doris lost the love of her life and a family was destroyed instantly."
Mr O’Reilly described Mr McGrath as a sporting man, a keen gardener and a community man.
"People like Noel are not meant to die at the side of the road. My soul is deeply scarred and the scars will never heal," he said.
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