A 21-year-old man whose heavily-intoxicated and cocaine-fuelled dangerous driving caused the death of three young men has been jailed for eight years by Judge Miriam Reynolds at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court.
Keith Bolger of Insey Bay, The Bark, Laytown, Co Meath, had been "dangerous to the highest degree contemplated by the legislation", Judge Reynolds said.
The court heard that Bolger, with a former address at Lentisk Lawn, Donaghmede, had acquired the car only weeks before the accident in the early hours of June 20, 2003.
Judge Reynolds said the families of the deceased men, Peter O’Rouke (aged 18), Anthony Murphy (aged 18) and Aston Ryan (aged 21), had been left with "empty beds, empty rooms and empty hearts".
She noted that the families had asked for clemency for Bolger and said she admired their generosity. However, she said, her duty was to construct a sentence that was proportionate to the offence and the offender.
Judge Reynolds noted that Bolger went on an eight-hour binge on the evening of June 19, 2003 and had indulged in drink, cocaine and hash. He was showing off his new car and was driving at excessive speed when it hit a lamp post at Sutton Park and Sutton Road junction in the early hours of the following morning.
Considering Bolger’s early plea of guilty, the genuine remorse which he had expressed at the funeral of the young men and his acceptance of responsibility, Judge Reynolds suspended the last three years of the sentence.
"He is a young man and still has a life to live," she said. Members of the Bolger family broke down in tears and cried in court as Judge Reynolds pronounced the sentence.
Earlier, Patrick Ryan, father of 21-year-old Aston Ryan, said he didn’t blame Bolger as much as he did drug pushers for what happened.
Sergeant Michael Brady told prosecuting counsel, Mr Luan O Braonain BL, the car was travelling between 74 mph and 83 mph when it hit the lamp post. It rotated at 25-30 mph on impact with the post and threw two of its occupants out of the vehicle.
O’Rourke and Murphy, who had completed their Leaving Certificate exams that day and had got into the car less than an hour before the accident happened, were pronounced dead on arrival at the Mater Hospital.
Sgt Brady said they were sitting on the back seat on either side of Ryan who was pronounced dead later in the morning after attempts to resuscitate him failed at Beaumont Hospital. The fourth youth in the car who was on the front passenger seat and Bolger survived the crash.
"I don’t know why I survived. I wish I could trade places with you," Bolger, who was 20 years of age at the time of the accident, said in a note read out at the funeral of the young men whose deaths his driving caused.
The fathers of O’Rourke and Ryan said they did not hold Bolger responsible for the deaths of their sons. "My family does not hold Keith responsible," Patrick Ryan, father of 21-year-old Aston Ryan said. He said if anyone was to blame, it should be "the drug pushers".
"I feel it would be an awful tragedy if another family were to be affected by this. I am thinking in particular of Keith’s partner and son," Robert O’Rourke, father of 18-year-old Peter O’Rourke said.
He was referring to Bolger’s now five-year-old son, who he had fathered at the age of 16.
Anthony Murphy’s mother, Margaret Murphy, told Judge Reynolds that she did not know why her son had got into Bolger’s car at all. He had called her at midnight and told her he was going to stay at the O’Rourkes that night after celebrating the last of his exams.
"I never expected to identify my 18-year-old son in a morgue," she said. She added that Anthony’s body had been so badly damaged she was asked not pull off the sheet that covered his body.
Instead, she said, she was given "one perfect arm to rub".
All three parents told Judge Reynolds how much they missed their sons and how their lives had been so drastically cut short, leaving black holes and empty voids within the respective families.
On the evening of June 19, 2003 Bolger invited a friend of his, Thomas Ross, to join him for a drive to celebrate the new car. They went to Dollymount beach and stopped at the Pier House pub where Bolger had two or three pints of Budweiser.
While at the pub they met two girls with whom they developed a conversation. They all then went to the Coach House pub where Bolger had two more pints.
While every one else was still at the pub, Bolger left it for a period of time. A short while after he returned they were joined by a friend of the girls he had first met at Pier House, increasing the number of the party to five. They all went down for a drive down the pier in Howth.
Sgt Brady said Bolger was "showing off" his new car and drove very fast. They stopped for a while then and Bolger produced a bag of cocaine which he offered to everyone in the group.
When the others declined his offer, he took the drug himself. He then drove to Balscadden car park where there was some more fast driving. Shortly afterwards the girls and their male friend left Bolger and Ross. The two men then drove to Madigan’s pub in Kilbarrack where they met Rory Conroy and Aston Ryan.
Shortly after midnight they ordered some take away beer and a naggin of vodka. They then went back to Dollymount beach and later to St Anne’s Park. At both locations they had drinks and took some of the cocaine which Bolger still had with him.
Bolger then drove Ross home and as he left the car, they met O’Rourke and Murphy who had been out celebrating the end of their Leaving certificate examinations. They then got into the back of the car on either side of Aston Ryan. Conroy was still on the front passenger seat.
Sgt Brady said that shortly after 3.40am a taxi driver observed the car travelling at about 70 mph along Kilbarrack Road. She also noted there were five people in the car and saw it driving along the right side of the road. About 10 minutes later the car collided with the lamp post.