Taxi driver avoids jail after assault of passenger

A Nigerian taxi driver has avoided a jail sentence over assaulting a passenger with a sweeping brush and a toy trailer, breaking the man’s collar bone.

At Limerick Circuit Court, Okechukwu Utuke, aged 44, of Dun na hInse, Ennis, walked free from court after Judge Gerald Keyes imposed a two-year suspended jail term on the married father of three.

Judge Keyes said: “I do not believe that a custodial sentence is warranted in the case.

“However, a message must be sent from this court that anyone who attacks violently a person in the manner which you did that night is just unacceptable and must be reflected in the sentence imposed.”

Judge Keyes said he noted that Utuke was a hard-working man holding down two jobs; has an application for citizenship pending; has lived in Ennis for seven years; and has never come to the attention of the gardaí.

Lorcan Connolly, defending, said Utuke was himself physically assaulted by a passenger while working as a taxi driver and the perpetrator had never been caught.

Utuke offered in to court €3,000 in compensation to his victim, Michael L’Estrange, as a token of remorse.

Mr L’Estrange rejected the money, but Judge Keyes ordered Utuke put the €3,000 in his solicitor’s client account and Mr L’Estrange may reconsider the matter.

In the assault, Mr L’Estrange, aged 48, of Gort na mBlath, Ennis, sustained bruised ribs and a broken collar bone that required keyhole surgery.

Utuke assaulted Mr L’Estrange in a row over a €15 fare at 3am on Apr 25, 2010. A jury delivered a guilty verdict at Ennis Circuit Court last week.

The jury heard that Utuke went after Mr L’Estrange after the latter left the taxi, handing over €10, and punched him a number of times and hit him while he was on the ground with the brush and toy trailer.

In his victim impact statement, Mr L’Estrange said that since the assault, he has become anxious to go out in public; experienced nightmares about the attack for over one year; and was out of work for a number of months after the incident.

Mr L’Estrange said the costs to him from loss of earnings and medical costs totalled €11,930.

Mr L’Estrange said he has had a hatred of travelling in taxis since the assault and still has a fear of meeting Utuke again.


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