The driver of the van, from which a young Furbo woman fell to her death nearly a year ago, has been given 200 hours of community service for his role in the tragedy.
The parents of 22-year-old Cliodhna Thornton had written to the investigating team, and asked that the same letter be sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions, requesting that the friend of their only daughter be shown leniency.
Although it was not clear that the DPP had heeded this plea, the only summonses facing mechanic, Ian Noone (25), of Woodstock, Moycullen Road, were for failing to stop the vehicle, failing to give information to Gardaí, failing to keep the vehicle at the scene, and failing to report the incident.
Garda Kieran Quinn told the court that there had been much confusion at the scene of the crash on November 20 last, as a lot of misinformation had been reported to Gardaí – it was days before the true story actually emerged.
He said that when he arrived at Tooreeney, Moycullen, at 2.24am, Ms Thornton was being resuscitated on the ground, while a second female was being treated for a head injury by ambulance personnel.
“We were told initially that it had been a hit-and-run, and that the vehicle had left the scene,” he said, adding that checkpoints had to be set up to apprehend the driver.
The only cars on the roadway, which links Moycullen and Barna, were those that had arrived after the accident.
The Garda said that it was only after he had taken forty witness statements that he was finally able to piece together what had happened. The group of friends had been out socialising in Moycullen that night, including Ms Thornton’s two brothers.
They had been unable to get a taxi home, so they piled into the van – four of the six passengers got into the back of the van, which had no seats nor restraints of any kind.
When the van turned right off the Moycullen Road to Barna, the sliding door at the side of the vehicle opened, and the two females fell out and suffered fatal injuries.
The vehicle would have been considered dangerously defective had there been passenger seats in the rear, but it was fit for purpose as a work van.
Judge Mary Fahy said that the defendant’s actions immediately after the accident said a lot about his friendship with Ms Thornton.
“I’m shocked – if you were such a good friend, you would have stayed at the scene,” she said.
“You were more interested in saving your own neck for three days, before admitting that you were the driver. The court is not impressed.”
Sean Thornton, father of the deceased girl, spoke up and said that Noone had been asked by the other passengers to remove the van from the scene, that it had not been his own decision. The Garda confirmed that the statements given by witnesses supported this claim.
Judge Fahy asked the young woman’s parents to confirm that they did not wish Noone to go to prison, despite the fact that his actions had been highly irresponsible.
Sean Thornton replied: “We feel it’s a tragedy, and has been very hard on everyone. We believe that he is a young lad with his life ahead of him. It will be hard for the rest of his life, and he has to carry this.”
In imposing 200 hours of community service and a five-year driving disqualification, Judge Fahy said that Noone had to pay some price for his role in Cliodhna’s death.
“I feel he’d be happier to give something back to the community,” she said in conclusion.
For more on this story, see the Connacht Tribune.