Man driving under influence of drugs caused 'catastrophic' injuries to two men, court hears

A Kildare man driving under the influence of drugs mounted a footpath hitting and seriously injuring two men before “calmly” leaving the scene, a court has heard.

Paul Connolly (37), who has 14 convictions for dangerous driving and three for hit and runs, was driving his young child to school at the time. He admitted to taking cocaine and tablets the night before.

He was on a 25-year driving ban and had been released from prison about a month previously.

Connolly, who has a total of 215 previous convictions, “undertook” a line of traffic stopped at a railway barrier, before suddenly swerving onto the footpath where he first hit Michael Igoe (54) and continued driving to hit student Francis Dhala (19), causing him “catastrophic” injuries.

Witnesses described him going back onto the road, doing a U-turn and driving “calmly” from the scene with a smashed windscreen.

He was followed by a driving instructor who kept in touch with gardaí until they were able to intercept him.

Mr Igoe sustained a badly fractured ankle, bruising, torn shoulder muscles and concussion from bang to his head. He underwent surgery on his leg and continues to have a limp.

Mr Dhala suffered a severe head injury and underwent multiple surgeries, spending over three months in hospital. He is currently spending weekdays at the National Rehabilitation Centre.

Dublin Circuit Criminal Court heard Mr Dhala has done well since the accident but suffers ongoing issues such as cognitive defects and short-term memory problems. He has recently regained the ability to speak, eat and drink normally.

Connolly told initially gardaí he thought he had hit “a bush.” He later said he had taken his eyes off the road for a second and didn't know he had hit anyone.

Connolly of Cregg Court, Kilmeague, Robertstown, Kildare, pleaded guilty to dangerous driving causing serious bodily harm to Mr Igoe and Mr Dhala at Coolmine Road, Coolmine on May 1, 2018.

He also pleaded guilty to driving under the influence of drugs; possession of cannabis; failing to remain at the scene; failing to offer assistance; failing to alert gardaí; as well as driving without insurance or a driving licence on the same occasion.

Defence counsel, Martin O'Rourke SC, handed in a letter of apology from Connolly and a psychological report into court.

He said Connolly admitted taking cocaine and self-medicating with street benzodiazepine as he had been on anti-depressants but could no longer afford them. He said his client had a difficult family background and started drinking as a 14-year-old, with most of his convictions being drink-related.

Counsel asked Judge Melanie Greally to take note of Connolly's early guilty plea and submitted that incarcerating him for longer and longer periods would not address the causes of his recidivism.

He said if the court accepted Connolly genuinely now wanted to address his issues, suspending a significant portion of any sentence might provide an incentive.

Judge Greally adjourned sentencing until May.

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