Driver acquitted in beach death case

A man who reversed a large truck carrying surf equipment over a tourist on Inch Strand two years ago has been found not guilty of the charge of dangerous driving causing her death.

The 40ft, 1990, orange-coloured truck had no working horn as required under the road traffic acts, and it had no reverse lights, or other devices which were optional for a truck of its age, the trial had heard.

Rowan Minjon, aged 25, Brandon Bay Lodge, Castlegregory, Co Kerry, had pleaded not guilty to dangerous driving causing the death of Jena Hill, aged 58, at Inch Strand, Ardboe, Annascaul, Co Kerry, on Jul 2, 2011.

Mr Minjon who was an employee of the Tralee-based Offshore Surf School, had been slowly and carefully reversing the truck onto the tide at around 9.45am that morning, the trial was told. The surf school operated under permit from the county council along a defined route, but it had to be parked to the side each evening and reversed to the tide each morning.

Ms Hill, from Loreto, Springfield, Kentucky, had got off a bus from Killarney and had gone to the strand and was looking out to sea. She did not have hearing problems, the trial was told.

Garda vehicle inspector Jim O’Brien said the incident took place on the sand. The vehicle was on the beach under council permit to the owner of the school Kieran Burke of Carrigeendaniel, Caherslee, Tralee.

The truck’s brakes and steering were working but it had no working horn as required under the road traffic acts; neither did it have optional hazard warnings, reversing lights, audible reversing devices or a reversing camera, he found.

Garda O’Brien said Mr Minjon had been unaware of the lady, but the garda also said she should have noticed the "big bright noisy and near" truck.

In closing speeches yesterday, Tom Rice, prosecuting, said Mr Minjon was reversing a dangerous object and he was aware pedestrians were present on the beach.

"The accused would have been aware of the type of vehicle he was driving… a vehicle of that size, 40ft in length, is a dangerous object and to reverse a vehicle in that condition there is a very high onus on the driver where pedestrians are likely to be present."

It was never necessary to establish sole responsibility he said, conceding the woman bore some responsibility. The truck was beyond the defined path and on the open beach and a person walking the beach in the morning would not expect to encounter such a vehicle.

John O’Sullivan, defending, said "a fundamental element" in the case was that Kerry County Council had permitted the truck to operate on the beach. The truck was there under permit from the council.

In his charge to the jury, Judge Carroll Moran had told them they could bring in a verdict of careless driving. After just 50 minutes, the jury unanimously decided to bring in a verdict of not guilty of dangerous driving causing death.

After the verdict was brought in, Judge Moran thanked the jury.

The judge offered his condolences to the family of the deceased who died in such a tragic way.