Driver who killed mother freed on appeal

A man who killed a young mother and seriously injured her 15-week-old child, when he hit them with his car, has had the balance of a two-year jail term suspended on appeal.

He was in a ‘micro-sleep’ when the accident happened.

Dublin man Anthony Handley, 64, of Whitethorn Grove, Artane, had pleaded guilty, at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court, to dangerous driving, causing the death of Olivia Dunne, 31, and serious bodily harm to Éabha Dunne, in Balbriggan, on January 17, 2014.

Gardaí believe Handley drifted off to sleep momentarily, before his off-road SUV veered from the road and hit the two victims. He had no alcohol or drugs in his system.

Sentencing Handley to two years’ imprisonment on May 10, 2016, Judge Patrick McCartan said he was a good man with a blameless record, but that he should have been alert to his tiredness.

The Court of Appeal yesterday found a number of errors in the sentencing of Handley. He was given a new, two-year jail term, but had the balance suspended on conditions. His driving ban was unchanged.

Giving judgment in the three-judge court, Mr Justice Alan Mahon said Handley, who had had only four hours’ sleep overnight, was driving towards Balbriggan, shortly after midday, when he lost control of his car and swerved across the road, striking a young mother who was wheeling her child in a buggy. Eyewitnesses said Handley’s car swerved suddenly across the road, without breaking.

Handley was unable to explain the accident. It was initially suspected that he suffered a mini-stroke and this was the subject of intense medical scrutiny. Ultimately, the medical evidence suggested otherwise and the only other rational explanation was that Handley had fallen asleep. This prompted him to plead guilty.

Ms Dunne was killed instantly and her infant daughter was significantly injured. Éabha wasn’t expected to survive, but she “defied the odds”.

Sadly, she will grow up never having known her mother, Mr Justice Mahon said.

Olivia Dunne’s sister, Caroline Clinton, described how her sister was a proud and content new mother, wife and teacher, whose life was “complete”.

Ciarán Dunne lost his young wife, is severely traumatised, has not returned to work, and cannot travel past the scene of the accident.

Handley is a father of three and a grandfather. He worked his entire adult life and had no previous convictions. Although separated from his wife for 10 years, he has moved back into the marital home to be her primary carer. She has a serious illness.

Mr Justice Mahon said the sentencing judge “unfairly penalised” Handley for the delay in pleading guilty; “erroneously attributed” to Handley a motivation to explore “the depth of a technical or other defence”; deemed his efforts to investigate the medical cause for the accident as reflective of diminished remorse and attached insufficient weight to the mitigating factors, particularly Handley’s role as main carer for his estranged wife. Finally, Mr Justice Mahon said the custodial sentence of two years was “unduly harsh”.

Mr Justice Mahon, who sat with Mr Justice George Birmingham and Mr Justice John Edwards, allowed the appeal. Handley was resentenced to two years’ imprisonment, but the unserved portion was suspended.

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