A judge has criticised some young male drivers for treating public roads “as some form of private racetrack” to show off their driving skills and the performances of their vehicles, without regard to the dangers for their passengers or others. Judge Eugene O’Kelly made his comments as he sentenced 19-year-old Edward O’Shea from Magnh, Fenor, Co Waterford, to 14 months in prison for careless driving causing the death of 16-year-old Katie Murphy in a crash in October of 2016.
Mr O’Shea pleaded guilty at Waterford Circuit Court in January to careless driving causing the death of Ms Murphy, from Ballinamona in Waterford, and careless driving causing serious harm to friends Joseph Walsh and Jessica Flynn. The pleas were not accepted by the State and he went on trial at the circuit court earlier this year on charges of dangerous driving causing death and dangerous driving causing serious harm, but was convicted by a jury of the careless driving causing death and serious harm charges.
He was sentenced to 14 months in prison, concurrent, on each of the careless driving charges, by Judge O’Kelly and also banned from driving for six years and fined €800, the latter for driving on a learner permit without being accompanied by a qualified driver.
Judge O’Kelly referred to evidence of Snapchat messages sent from the car, not heard by the jury in the trial, one of which was from Katie Murphy to a friend shortly before the crash in which a female was heard saying they were “probably going to die” and another which contained a male voice saying they were travelling “twice over the speed limit”.
The court heard that the four friends were in a high-powered, modified Toyota coupé, registered in the name of Edward O’Shea’s family’s garage business and being driven by Mr O’Shea on the evening of October 5, 2016. Mr O’Shea had a provisional licence since the previous May and there was no qualified driver in the car with him.
With other friends behind them in cars in convoy, they decided to head for a scenic area outside Tramore, and as they hit about 65km/h, the other cars lost sight of Mr O’Shea’s car. On the Cliff Road on the edge of the town, the car went sideways at the entrance to a housing estate, hit a kerb and then collided with a wall. Katie Murphy died as a result of severe head and chest injuries while Joseph Walsh and Jessica Flynn suffered serious injuries.
Edward O’Shea told gardaí at the scene that he didn’t know what happened and was “only doing about 30” at the time. He also said, “I can’t remember, I had a blackout,” at the scene. A Garda forensic crash investigator found that the driver lost control of the car near the housing estate entrance and the car went sideways into a wall. Mr O’Shea was interviewed four times in a garda station following the crash but had no comment to make on each occasion.
John O’Kelly SC, defending, said Edward O’Shea worked as an apprentice mechanic in his father Michael O’Shea’s garage business. It was evident from a probation report prepared on Mr O’Shea that he was “very affected by the consequences” of his actions and “extremely aware of the terrible loss that the Murphy family” suffered. He was “not, in any way, unaffected by what happened,” Mr O’Kelly said.
By pleading guilty to the careless driving charges, he said, “he was prepared to accept responsibility for the consequences of his bad judgement and, obviously, bad driving on this day where he failed to negotiate this turn”.
There were no previous convictions and a psychotherapist he has since been attending found he has been suffering from depression, survivor’s guilt, post-traumatic stress disorder, flashbacks, shame, grief, and insomnia.
A letter written by Edward O’Shea to the Murphy family was read out by his barrister, in which he said that “with a broken heart, I want to personally apologise to the families” affected. “I am truly sorry,” he said. “I loved Katie and I miss her so much. I am so sorry that this happened and that you have to feel the pain and devastation you are going through.”
He said he is “devastated” by the effect on so many people of his “bad judgement” on the day of the crash. “I am truly sorry and hope that one day you will be able to forgive me.”
Judge O’Kelly said he put the offences at the very upper end of the range of careless driving offences but took account of the accused’s age — 17 at the time — and immaturity. He criticised the O’Shea family garage’s “extreme and blatantly” irresponsibility in “facilitating” the accused’s driving unaccompanied by putting him on the garage’s insurance policy.
The judge said: “Some drivers, particularly young men, treat the public roads as some form of private racetrack, for the exhibition of what they believe to be their driving skills and the performances of their vehicles, and do so without any regard for the potentially catastrophic consequences for their passengers and other road-users.”