A Donegal man has been convicted of killing his friend in a dangerous driving incident in Co Louth in which several witnesses said he appeared asleep as he drove on the wrong side of the road.
Oliver Shovelin (aged 32) of Clondallon, Rathmullen was remanded in custody for sentence later by Judge Tony Hunt at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court.
Shovelin’s 27 previous convictions included several for drink driving, Sergeant Brendan Goodison told prosecuting counsel, Mr Fergal Foley BL.
The jury took just 48 minutes to find him guilty of dangerous driving causing the death of his passenger, Mr John Sheridan, and also causing bodily harm to Ms Deirdre O’Brien at Cookstown, Ardee on July 11, 2004.
Sgt Goodison said he believed that Shovelin’s brother had been killed in a road accident a few years ago. He said Shovelin was "known to the insurance companies" and had also on two occasions refused to give a breathalyser sample to gardai.
Judge Hunt thanked the jury for its care and attention to the case and ordered probation and psychological reports to be prepared for the sentence hearing later.
Shovelin was travelling with Mr Sheridan to Dublin to see Donegal play Armagh in the All-Ireland Football Championship on the busy N2 road when the collision occurred. Witnesses told how they saw him drive at speed on the wrong side causing ongoing traffic to swerve to avoid him.
Ms O’Brien was travelling to a horse show, towing a horse-box, when she met Shovelin coming at her head-on. She described seening his van "zig-zagging" before coming in a straight line towards her while other motorists swerved to avoid him and she attempted to do the same.
"I remember thinking I had to move out of the way. I knew he was going to hit me but I thought if he hit me on my passenger side I might have some chance of surviving."
She said the next thing she could remember was a large bang and seeing the engine "all around my legs."
Her horse box was thrown into the air and the animal crashed through the roof landing in the middle of the road. The horse had to be put down.
Brendan Carbury, who was travelling to the match with his family, said he noticed Shovelin behind him "driving like a maniac" and when he attempted to overtake him he appeared to have his eyes closed.
"My initial reaction was ‘Oh my God, that man is asleep,’ " Mr Carbury told Mr Foley. "It’s an image that will stay with me for the rest of my life."
John Hayles was travelling in the opposite direction and told Mr Foley he met the van coming down the wrong side of the road but Mr Shovelin didn’t seem to acknowledge him.
"I kept honking the horn and flashing the lights, thinking the driver must be asleep because he doesn’t see me on the road."
Mr Hayles said he then realised the driver was awake but he was leaning back in the seat "very relaxed looking" with one hand on the wheel.
"He just looked so casual about the whole thing," Mr Hayles told defence counsel, Mr David Goldberg SC. He said he avoided Mr Shovelin and saw the collision in his rear view mirror.
Dr Ralph Horey, the doctor on call at St Brigids Hospital, Ardee, said he pronounced Mr Sheridan dead at the scene from a suspected broken neck. Shovelin was unconscious with serious head and chest injuries.
Mr J K Nasser, an orthopaedic surgeon at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda , said Ms O’Brien had multiple fractures to her legs and "was lucky she didn’t lose her life".
He said Shovelin’s skull was exposed from a head injury and he suffered brain damage but had since made a good recovery.