Pressure mounts to hold Rome driver in custody

PRESSURE was growing yesterday for Italian officials to place in custody the son of a former police chief accused of causing the deaths of two Irish women as they celebrated St Patrick’s Day.

As lawyers argued over whether to lock up Friedrich Vernarelli while the investigation continues, the accused man’s father said he was hoping to meet the family of the two victims to apologise in person.

The deaths have reignited debate in Italy over the number of road accidents every year and allegations that the courts do not take a tough enough stance against offenders.

Liz Gubbins, 28, from Lisnagry, Co Limerick, and Mary Collins, 29, from Co Kildare, were killed as they crossed a road on Lungotevere Altoviti, near Castel Sant’Angelo in downtown Rome.

They were run over by a Mercedes car driven by Friedrich Vernarelli. While he initially refused to take a drugs and alcohol test, a later alcohol test he was forced to take confirmed he was four and half times over the legal limit.

After spending just five hours in custody, he was driven home by local police to his parents’ home, where he was allowed to sleep the rest of the day and is now under house arrest.

His lawyer, Giovanni Marcellitti, said he had spent most of Tuesday with Friedrich and his family to try to piece together what had happened during the accident.

He said: “My client Mr Vernarelli is really in shock, and has been given a sedative to calm him down, so it is hard to get the story.

“He faces charges of manslaughter, murder, failing to help after an accident, causing damage by driving and driving under the influence of alcohol. He will have to appear in court soon and I understand that prosecutors will ask for him to be remanded in custody.

“I don’t know what that will bring... Mr Vernarelli does not remember anything about the accident.”

Rome prosecutor Andrea Mosca confirmed that he had already applied for Vernarelli to be remanded in custody, because of the risk of reoffending based on a report given to him by police.

The judge handling the preliminary investigation, Luisana Figliolia, said she would make a decision later today if Vernarelli had to go to the Regina Coeli prison or not.

It may be another week before the bodies of the two women are brought home.

Canon Willie Fitzmaurice, uncle of Liz Gubbins, said yesterday: “It is a very difficult time.”

Canon Fitzmaurice, a former Limerick hurler, has been comforting members of the family.

Family members yesterday made arrangements to fly out to Rome where they will formally identify the bodies of the two victims.

Liz Gubbins qualified as a biochemist at UCD and worked in Tullamore.

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