A 26-year-old South East man knocked down two pedestrians while driving home from a New Year's Eve party and then ran away from the accident scene leaving a seriously injured Leaving Cert student on the road, Clonmel Circuit Court was told.
The driver was Seamus Babbington Junior from Lower Ballylynch, Carrick-on-Suir, County Tipperary, who received a two-year suspended jail sentence and six-year driving licence ban at the Circuit Court's latest sitting. He was also directed by Judge Tom Teehan to pay €11,000 compensation to the most seriously injured accident victim and €1000 to the second victim.
He pleaded guilty at the court to careless driving causing serious bodily harm, drink driving, failing to report an accident as soon as possible to a garda and failing to give appropriate information at an accident scene to a person entitled to demand such information when a garda isn't present. He committed the offences on the Pill Road at Lower Ballylynch in the early hours of January 1, 2017.
The court heard that one of the victims of the accident Chelsea Fitzpatrick spent her 18th birthday in a wheelchair due to the serious injuries she suffered and her mother had to give up her job to care for her.
Gda. Brendan O'Halloran told the court Chelsea Fitzpatrick and Ryan Waters were walking home after socialising in Carrick-on-Suir on New Year's Eve in 2016. They were crossing the Pill Road near the railway bridge at Lower Ballylynch when a vehicle collided with both of them. Chelsea Fitzpatrick remembered seeing the headlights of the car and heard a bang.
The next thing she remembered was being on the ground and a man said to her: "Don't do this to me. I am after drink driving. I can't afford to lose my licence."
Gda. O'Halloran said the incident was filmed on CCTV. The accused left the scene on foot and his cousin, who was with him, drives the car away. The garda outlined that Mr Babington ran down the road to his home at Lower Ballylynch. People came to assist Ms Fitzpatrick, who was taken by ambulance to Waterford University Hospital.
Ryan Waters recalled crossing the road and the next thing he remembered was being on the ground. He didn't remember the impact. He saw Mr Babington and his passenger get out of the car. He hobbled over to the kerb. He could see Chelsea screaming.
Gda. O'Halloran said Mr Waters described having cuts and bruises to his hand, his left leg was sore and the back of his head was also cut. He was taken to South Tipperary General Hospital where it was found he suffered bruising and tenderness to his head, face, back, neck and spine. He didn't suffer any fractures. Ms Fitzpatrick took the full impact of the collision.
Prosecuting barrister Lily Buckley and Gda. O'Halloran outlined that Ms Fitzpatrick suffered injuries to her pelvis, arm and knee. The accident also had an impact on her kidneys and she sustained significant soft tissue injuries. It took her some time to get back on her feet and there was even a doubt she would sit the Leaving Cert though she did sit the exams in the end.
They outlined that Ms Fitzpatrick was still suffering from the injuries she sustained in the accident and some medical investigations and treatment were ongoing.
Returning to the night of the accident, Gda. O'Halloran said a woman, who lived across the road, heard a bang at 3.45am. She went out and saw Ms Fitzpatrick lying on the ground.
She was screaming and complaining of pain in her leg and back.
His colleague Gda. Paul Cronin saw a car abandoned at the entrance to a house about 200m from the accident scene. The front windscreen was smashed, the vehicle was warm and it was locked.
Enquiries were made and it was established the car was registered to the defendant. Gardai went to his home and Mr Babington opened the door. Sgt. Sean Buckley asked him did he know why the gardai were calling to him and he replied: "Yeah, is the girl okay?".
Sgt. Buckley noted the defendant was intoxicated, unsteady on his feet and he got a smell of alcohol from his breath. He was arrested and a breath sample he provided showed he had a concentration of 72mgs of alcohol per 100ml of breath in his system, which was over the excess alcohol limit.
Mr Babbington co-operated with the gardai and voluntarily presented himself for interview at Carrick-on-Suir Garda Station.
He admitted driving after drinking and told gardai he should have been wearing spectacles while driving but wasn't that night because they were broken.
He didn't see Ms Fitzgerald and Mr Waters until the last moment. The defendant explained he was in shock and panicked and ran off while his cousin drove the car away. However, he believed Ms Fitzgerald was in safe hands when he left.
Gda. O'Halloran pointed out that Ms Babbington said during the interview he wished to apologise and provided letters of apology to the two victims.
Mr Waters didn't provide a victim impact report to the court but one prepared by Chelsea Fitzpatrick was read by Gda. O'Halloran. She was present in court for the case with her mother and grandmother.
In the report, she said she was 17 years-old when the accident occurred and it "turned her life upside down". She spent her 18th birthday in a wheelchair and her mother had to give up work to care for her. After the accident she had to stay in the sitting room of her home because she couldn't get upstairs.
The road to recovery had been long and it was still ongoing. She suffered from stomach and bladder problems and was restricted in lifting heavy objects with her left arm. She was also restricted from walking too long because her knee swelled up. Ms Fitzpatrick said she gained weight because she couldn't do much and she lost her confidence. She pointed out that she had "some very dark moments" since the accident. She didn't accept Mr Babington's letter of apology.
"It just caused upset and anger. I just want to get on with my life and push this out of my mind." She concluded by stating she would be reminded of the accident every day because of her health problems.
Defence barrister David Roberts said his client was at a house party that night and originally planned to stay at the house but that didn't materialise.
He then made the ill-fated decision to drive home and accepts he shouldn't have done that. He panicked and ran home after the accident. He described his actions as "stupid" and was shocked and disappointed by his behaviour.
His came from a hard working family and his actions brought shame on them and made life difficult for them.
The barrister acknowledged it didn't reflect well on his client that he fled the scene but submitted that he waited until the woman arrived at the scene before leaving and pointed to the enquiry he made about Ms Fitzpatrick's condition when gardai arrived at his home shortly after the accident.
Mr Roberts also noted his client and his father made efforts to contact the gardai in the days after to deal with the matter as quickly as possible. He submitted that Mr Babbington made a voluntary statement to gardai making full and frank admissions and pleaded guilty at an early stage in the court process.
His client told gardai he was deeply sorry and remorseful while his father approached relatives of Ms Fitzpatrick on January 2, 2016 to convey his son's apologies. His client instructed him to apologise once again in court to the two accident victims.
Mr Roberts said he viewed the CCTV footage of the accident and believed his client wasn't driving at an excessive speed.
The barrister continued that Mr Babbington has never been a day out of work since completing a two year course in horse breeding at Kildalton College. He was living in Holland for the past nine months and hoped to return to Ireland to continue to work in the equine industry. His uncle was a famous show jumper. He argued that the offences committed by his client were an "aberration". He hadn't any previous convictions and hasn't come to garda attention since this incident while a Probation
Report assessed him as being a low risk of re-offending. While alcohol was a major factor in this incident, his client didn't have an alcohol abuse problem. He cycled, competed in triathlons and marathons and worked extensively for charitable organisations through his sporting endeavours. Mr Roberts concluded by appealing to Judge Teehan not to impose a custodial sentence.
Judge Teehan said the victim impact statement made for "harrowing reading". Ms Fitzpatrick suffered horrific injuries, which continue to profoundly affect her over two years later. This was a huge aggravating factor as were the facts the defendant drove knowing he had consumed a significant quantity of alcohol and left the accident scene very prematurely.
He took into consideration his guilty plea, co-operation with gardai, apologies to the victim and remorse, his previous good record and very good work history. The judge noted that Mr Babbington must bare on his conscience for the rest of his life the fact he injured two people as a result of his wrong doing. He suspended the two-year jail term for four years on condition Mr Babington entered a bond to keep the peace and be of good behaviour.
In relation to compensation, he directed the defendant pay €3,000 a year for the next four years. He stipulated that in the first year €1,000 go to Mr Waters and €2,000 to Ms Fitzpatrick and the compensation paid over the remaining three years be paid to Ms Fitzpatrick.
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