Driver fined over falling load from trailer

Cork Circuit Criminal Court File photo

The jury in a case where a woman was seriously injured by loose bars from a passing trailer found the driver not guilty of dangerous driving causing serious harm but guilty of failing to take adequate precaution with the load.

The eight women and four men of the jury at Cork Circuit Criminal Court took approximately three hours to return a verdict of not guilty in the case of Michael Herlihy, aged 38, of Derry, Rosscarbery, Co Cork, on the charge of dangerous driving causing serious bodily harm to Frances O’Driscoll on April 16, 2016, at Causeway, Rosscarbery. They found him guilty of failing to take adequate precaution to prevent a load from falling from a vehicle.

Tom Creed, defending, said in his closing speech: “I say the prosecution have not brought you [the jury] to the point where it was dangerous driving rather than careless driving. It is open to you to bring in a verdict of careless driving causing serious injury. I am not going to suggest you go below that. To do so would be an insult to your intelligence.”

After the verdict, he said of Herlihy: “He certainly feels responsible because she has suffered these serious injuries. It is something which he is extremely sorry for and he will have to live with it for failing to his trailer properly.”

Mr Creed said Herlihy was going to be much more vigilant. He also said he needed to be able to drive for work.

Siobhán Lankford, prosecuting, said the maximum penalty was one of €1,000 for the load offence on which he was convicted. Judge Brian O’Callaghan fined him €550.

The judge said there was no element of intention and the jury found him not guilty of the dangerous driving causing serious harm.

Judge O’Callaghan said he did not like the terms “closure” and “moving on” but he expressed the hope for Ms O’Driscoll and her family that life would get better and better for them.

Ms O’Driscoll was not present at the three-day trial but her statement of evidence was read to Judge Brian O’Callaghan and the jury. Her husband and two adult children were present.

That Saturday morning, Ms O’Driscoll went for a walk at about 8.30am. “I passed the Celtic Ross hotel. I was on the footpath heading for home. I had my headphones on. I don’t remember anything after that. I know now I was struck by steel reinforcement bars that knocked me to the ground. I had major fractures and suffered loss of sight in my left eye. I was detained for approximately 60 days in hospital.”

Cathy Kingston was driving behind the 4x4 and trailer and said: “There was lengths of copper bars sticking out the back of the trailer. I kept my distance behind. As I was driving down the hill, a couple of bars separated and went to either side of the trailer sticking out on both sides. I saw a woman jogging. I just saw her fall just as the jeep and trailer passed her.”

Herlihy was interviewed by gardaí, in the presence of his solicitor, Joseph Cuddigan, and said: “I spotted a woman out walking. I waved to her. I knew her. I passed her. I saw the woman after falling.

“To this day I don’t know what happened. Not a morning or a night goes past that I don’t think about Frances O’Driscoll.”

At the end of the interview, he told gardaí the only reason he went back to the trailer to straighten up the bars afterwards was so as to prevent another similar incident.

The defendant, who is a carpenter by trade, had gone to Lisavaird Co-op that Saturday morning to buy 12 6m bars of steel for foundations of a wall he was building around his garden.

He gave details of how he strapped the bars to the bed of the trailer leaving them overhang at the back because of their length. He used a ratchet-style strap to tie them up and tied the strapping on to attachments at the side of the trailer. He recalled putting seatbelts on his two young sons in the back of the 4x4.

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