Man with epilepsy jailed after court hears he ignored warnings and knocked down teenager during seizure

By Aoife Nic Ardghail

An epileptic Dublin man who knocked down a teenage pedestrian and left him completely dependent on his family has been jailed for three and a half years.

Dublin Circuit Criminal Court heard that doctors had warned John Maguire (38) not to drive for a year after his last epileptic seizure, just two months before he hit Josh Sweeney with his van.

Mr Sweeney, who is now 20 years old, was crossing at a green pedestrian traffic light when Maguire knocked him down. Maguire later told gardaí he had no recollection of the collision as he was having an epileptic fit at the time.

In a victim impact statement read out in court, Mr Sweeney's mother described how her son struggles to move a single limb, is unable to communicate and cannot feed himself.

“I would swap places in a heartbeat with him if I could,” she said, adding that she grieves every day for the loss of the “kindest, gentlest giant I have ever known” who wouldn't get to experience his life.

Maguire, of Kerlogue Road, Ringsend, pleaded guilty to dangerous driving causing serious harm to Mr Sweeney at Memorial Road, Dublin on March 18, 2017.

He also pleaded guilty to driving while suffering from a disease or mental disability which would render him a danger to the public. He has no previous convictions.

Today, Judge Martin Nolan told Maguire that despite the clear mitigating circumstances in the case, he had a “serious moral culpability” by ignoring an obvious risk.

“Driving a car is potentially dangerous and driving a car when you have a condition of epilepsy is a risky and reckless thing to do”, he said.

“Here we are with a fine young man dependent for the rest of his life. You had it within your power and within your knowledge to stop driving and you failed to do it for your own reasons”, he added.

The judge jailed Maguire for three and a half years out of a maximum ten-year prison term and disqualified him from driving for six years.

Garda Derek Grant told John Fitzgerald BL, prosecuting, that Mr Sweeney and his friend had travelled from Letterkenny, Co Donegal, that morning to attend an event at Convention Centre Dublin.

The two young men decided to head back to Letterkenny by bus that lunchtime and were approaching traffic lights to cross the road.

The green pedestrian light came on and Mr Sweeney stepped out, but was hit by Maguire's van and dragged underneath. Mr Sweeney's friend later recalled checking the road before he stepped out and seeing the vehicle, which didn't appear to slow.

Another witness saw the driver standing up in the van after the collision with his head close to the smashed windscreen.

When the vehicle stopped, this witness then noticed the driver frothing from the mouth and lying down in the passenger seat.

Gda Grant said Maguire and Mr Sweeney were taken to hospital from the scene.

A month later Maguire attended for interview with gardaí and revealed he had gotten up the morning of the collision to catch crabs to give to a fish tackle shop.

He said he had no recollection of the crash and only recalled hitting a kerb and hearing air escape his tyres.

He admitted he had about half a dozen epileptic fits since January 2016, but gave incorrect information about the dates and about doctors warning him not to drive.

Maguire claimed he had been told he was fit to drive after a seizure in December 2016. Gda Grant said Maguire's last documented seizure before the collision was in January 2017 and a doctor advised him not to drive for 12 months from that date.

The garda said Mr Sweeney suffered skull fractures, brain injury and broken limbs and that his prognosis was likely to be poor, with ongoing physical and cognitive disability.

Gda Grant agreed with Dominic McGinn SC, defending, that Maguire pleaded guilty at the earliest possible opportunity.

He further accepted that Maguire showed genuine remorse, had insight into what he had done and was determined never to get behind the wheel of a car again.

Mr McGinn submitted to Judge Nolan that his client had been teaching children how to fish, which was a “longterm passion”.

Counsel said Maguire's previous mental health issues were exacerbated by his offence and he had genuine insight and regret into the damage he had caused the Sweeney family.

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