By Liam Heylin
A law student whose dangerous driving caused the death of a mother and daughter last Christmas was banned from driving for 15 years and given a suspended jail sentence today.
Judge Seán Ó Donnabháin sentenced Susan Gleeson, 21, of Kilworth, Co Cork, at Cork Circuit Criminal Court on the single charge of dangerous driving causing the death of Cork mother, Geraldine Clancy, 58, and her daughter, Louise Ann, 22, on December 22 last year near Ballyderown on the Fermoy-Kilworth-Ballyduff Road.
The judge said inexperience, inattention and dangerously driving on the incorrect side of the road caused the accident, but there was an absence of aggravating factors such as speed, alcohol or use of a phone.
The judge said the car was flipped over into a flooded drain and the victims drowned. He said the consequent grief for the family of the victims was at the limits of human endurance.
Imposing a suspended sentence, Judge Ó Donnabháin said it was a difficult balancing act to meet the needs of the community and give public recognition to the harm that was done.
Sergeant John McNamara said the one thing he wanted to make absolutely clear was that the late Mrs Geraldine Clancy was 100% blameless in her driving on the day of the fatal accident on December 22 2015.
Louise Clancy was on her way to the library in UCC to complete an assignment. She was just home for the holidays from her Erasmus year at Sussex university.
Her mother, Geraldine, was dropping her into Fermoy to get a bus into the city.
Meanwhile, their neighbour Susan Gleeson was driving from her home to collect her dad and she had a dental appointment. She was thinking of where she would park her car. She was a learner driver, driving only since February of that year and should have been accompanied by an experienced driver under the terms of her learner driver permit. She had done nine of her 12 compulsory driving lessons.
Susan Gleeson believed on the morning of the accident that she could make the turn on to the main Fermoy Ballyduff Road. She passed the yield right of way sign and came out on to the main road where her carriageway was clear but she went out too far, crossing into the path of the oncoming car driven by Mrs Clancy on her correct side of the road at around 11am.
Sgt. McNamara said that there was a gap in the wall for many years. The Clancy car flipped over and after the collision, went through this gap, down an embankment and into a flooded trench, not much wider than the car, thereby wedging the car in the drain which was flooded to a height of 82 centimetres.
Sgt. McNamara said another driver close to the scene described seeing the defendant’s car appearing to be out of control as it went through the junction without stopping, causing the Ford Focus to flip over through the wall into the flooded drain.
“The car landed inside it, upside down in the flooded drain. There was .82 metres of water in the drain,” he said.
Emergency services were called but neighbours arrived on the scene first. “Screams could be heard from the car. Louise Clancy reached her hand back to his...She squeezed his hand for a short time. It stopped and she became lifeless,” Sgt. McNamara said.
“Noel Clancy arrived on the scene unaware who was involved. He assisted in the recovery. Noel Clancy stood on the inverted bonnet of the car just as it was about to be lifted,” he said.
The fire brigade then arrived on the scene and took over the recovery operation but both women in the car were dead. Noel Clancy did not recognise the victims whose complexion was purplish and their hair was wet and dishevelled.
Noel Clancy remarked to a neighbour that it was the same model as his own car. It was only later that he saw the registration number on the car and realised that the two people in the car were his wife and daughter. Both were declared dead at the scene, death caused by drowning.
Noel rang his daughter Fiona from the side of the road, saying, “Fi, there’s been a car crash at ‘the blind bridge’, there’s a car in the water, it’s Mom and Louise, I think they are drowned, come quick.”
Fiona arrived and when the worst was confirmed she said words were like knives in her stomach and she doubled over, screaming in grief.
Sgt. McNamara questioned Susan Gleeson, a law student, about what happened that morning. She said: “I took the turn and collided with an on-coming car. The front of my car struck the right of the oncoming car. I did not have my full concentration. My mind was not on the road. I was thinking of my dental appointment and how I was going to park.”
Ms Gleeson who went to school with Louise Clancy, wept throughout today’s lengthy sentencing hearing, for which she was accompanied by her parents. Sgt. McNamara described the Clancy and Gleeson families as both being extremely decent families.
Susan Gleeson said: “I want to apologise to Noel, Fiona and Declan on their loss of Louise and Geraldine. I never meant for this to happen. It haunts me every day. I think about them and the heartache I caused them. There are no words to say how sorry I am.”
Medical reports confirmed that the accused was overwhelmed, distraught and emotionally fragile following the accident and was in a state of near panic all the time.
“There are days she wishes she had died, she genuinely regrets it. She is utterly terrified of the consequences of a custodial sentence...There but for the grace of God go so many people who make mistakes on the road,” defence senior counsel James O’Mahony said.