The grief-stricken mother of a trainee barrister who was killed by a hit-and-run driver has welcomed the Government proposals to toughen up on penalties for drivers who flee the scene of an accident.
Lucia O’Farrell’s cyclist son Shane, 23, was killed by a hit-and-run driver who escaped a jail term despite having 42 previous convictions and driving without valid insurance or tax.
“We very much welcome the decision to increase the penalties and I hope it will give protection to other families, protection my son Shane didn’t receive from the State,” said Ms O’Farrell.
Ms O’Farrell, from Carickmacross, Co Monaghan, said her son hit the roof, bonnet, and windscreen of Zigimantas Gridzuiska’s car when it hit him in Aug 2011 and failed to stop.
“I just can’t believe he didn’t stop and hold Shane’s hand and tell him he’d be okay,” she said. “It was beyond evil. Nobody can explain what it’s like to place the lid over your son’s face in a coffin and say goodbye.”
Ms O’Farrell has met both Transport Minister Leo Varadkar and Fianna Fáil transport spokesman Timmy Dooley, who yesterday announced a crackdown on hit-and-run drivers.
Mr Varadkar accepted a Fianna Fáil private members’ bill which proposes jailing those who flee the scene of an accident after causing injury for up to 10 years and/or a fine of up to €5,000.
Mr Varadkar told the Dáil penalties of a six-month sentence at most and/or a €2,000 fine were “utterly inappropriate for an offence which involves causing death or serious injury, compounded by fleeing the scene”.
He said he recently met with Ms O’Farrell and was aware of the profound impact Shane’s death had had on her family.
“Not only was a young life ended unnecessarily, and not only did the driver flee the scene, but in this case there was no custodial sentence imposed on the individual responsible,” said Mr Varadkar.
He praised Mr Dooley’s bill, saying any measures that brought about a reduction in road deaths should be given serious consideration.
Mr Dooley said the bill was about removing any incentive for a driver to leave the scene of an accident, because by doing so they are putting lives at greater risk.
“In some of these cases, people are dying by the roadside in ditches because help was not called. This has to be ended”, said Mr Dooley.
He said there have been an estimated 100 hit-and-run incidents so far this year which have resulted in injuries. Three of those incidents were fatal.
However, the Government did not accept a second part of the bill which would have changed the law to allow alleged offenders be tested for drink and drugs up to 24 hours after the accident.
Independent TD Finian McGrath said that he would support adopting a law similar to what operates in Canada where those involved in hit-and-run accidents causing death are given life sentences.
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