CLAIMS that a man fell out of a van on his way home from the pub were denied when a district court conviction for drunk driving was appealed.
In October 2021, Judge James McNulty convicted Sean O’Sullivan of Filane Middle, Castletownbere, on a charge of drink driving at Derrymihan West, Castletownbere on March 30th 2021.
Judge McNulty fined Sean O’Sullivan €500 with an endorsement and a two-year disqualification from driving, but this was appealed at Judge Helen Boyle’s sitting of Bantry Circuit Court, which was held in Skibbereen recently.
Gda Batt Duggan gave evidence that he and Gda Kenneally were returning from dealing with a public order offence in Castletownbere when they came across the incident.
The garda said he saw the accused’s Blue Ford Transit van in the middle of the roadway at 1.40am and the two men were positioned behind it.
He gave evidence that Sean O’Sullivan was standing over the injured party, John Robert O’Sullivan, who was bleeding profusely on the roadway.
Gda Duggan said Gda Kenneally went to the assistance of the injured man and he approached Sean O’Sullivan who was speaking on his mobile to the ambulance service.
The garda said he heard the accused tell the ambulance crew that his friend had fallen out of his van onto the roadway near his home.
The accused who signed a written memo on the night – that was witnessed by two other garda – also admitted having consumed four or five pints in a local pub following a funeral earlier that day.
When asked at 1.40am by Gda Duggan what time he’d dropped his friend off, Sean O’Sullivan said ‘about 10 minutes ago’.
Throughout the circuit court hearing, the accused contradicted every aspect of the garda’s evidence, including Gda Duggan’s statement that he moved the van off the carriageway and parked it at the side of the road.
Sean O’Sullivan claimed that the garda’s statement was ‘an absolute lie’ but Gda Duggan told the court he was telling the truth. Sean O’Sullivan – who was legally represented by Sinead Behan BL, instructed by Flor Murphy solicitor – gave sworn evidence that he’d been at John Robert’s house for about three hours from about 10.30pm onwards before the accident happened.
John Robert O’Sullivan gave evidence that he’d let his dog, Lola, out of the house shortly before 1.30am and it was his dog that knocked him over on the pavement.
After the funeral, Sean O’Sullivan said, he spent most of the afternoon and evening working on his fishing boat and buying provisions because he was going fishing the next day. He told the court it was about 10pm when he went to collect his friends from the pub and bring them home.
The appellant said he joined them at John Robert’s house for a few cans and it was when he noticed – at around 1.30am – that John Robert hadn’t returned so he went looking for him.
Sean O’Sullivan said he found him on the pavement. He described seeing John Robert stand up and then fall over again, causing two open wounds to his head.
As a member of the RNLI in Castletownbere, he said he knew the wounds were serious and he called the ambulance service immediately.
Sinead Behan submitted into evidence phone records that showed Sean O’Sullivan making a call at 1.28pm but she said the call only lasted six minutes.
The barrister claimed that Gda Duggan was incorrect in his assertion that he arrived on the scene at 1.40am and could hear her client still talking to ambulance personnel.
However, in her summation Judge Helen Boyle said it was her belief that the phone records supported the garda’s evidence.
The garda gave evidence of having got a strong smell of alcohol from the accused, and administering a breath test, which the accused failed.
The garda said the accused was cautioned and arrested on suspicion of drunk driving and brought to Bantry Garda Station.
At the station, Gda Duggan said the accused started naming gardaí he knew ‘in an attempt to get away with the offence.’ Gda Duggan also gave evidence that Sean O’Sullivan asked him to tamper with the ‘evidenzer’ so he could get away with a low reading but the garda said he couldn’t help him.
Ms Behan questioned the garda’s note-taking and about how neat the writing was in his notebook, and how he had written down full sentences in what was an emergency situation.
Gda Duggan said he was aware of the seriousness of the situation and he took his time to make sure everything was done correctly. Judge Boyle asked the accused why, when he was being transported to Bantry Garda Station, he didn’t tell the gardaí about the dog. The accused claimed he was in shock and overwhelmed by his concern for his friend’s well-being.
In summing up, Sinead Behan argued that the gardaí had not proven their case beyond a reasonable doubt, but the State solicitor, Jerry Healy, said: ‘This is a matter of credibility.’
‘The garda,’ he said, ‘was sober and on duty. The time of driving is as plain as day. The injured man fell out of the van as he was being driven home. The appellant admitted having four or five pints and that the incident happened 10 minutes before the gardaí arrived.’ After considering the evidence, Judge Boyle said: ‘I don’t believe the story about the dog. There was ample opportunity that night and since then to tell that story and it was never told.’ The district court conviction was confirmed but the disqualification was postponed to September 1st.