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Driver with eye disorder moves to appeal conviction for pedestrian’s death

Ruaidhrí Giblin

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Ruaidhrí Giblin

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Kildare's David Byrne (43)  had pleaded not guilty to dangerous driving causing the death of Patricia Dunne (70) at Collins Avenue East, Killester in Dublin

A man with a degenerative eye disorder, who was jailed for dangerous driving causing the death of an elderly pedestrian, has moved to appeal his conviction. 

David Byrne (43) of Sunnyhill, Castlemartin Lodge, Kilcullen, County Kildare, had pleaded not guilty to dangerous driving causing the death of Patricia Dunne (70) at Collins Avenue East, Killester in Dublin on October 16, 2015.

The father-of-two had also pleaded not guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to dishonestly inducing the National Driving Licence Service (NDLS) to issue him with a driving licence and making a false or misleading statement while taking out insurance. 

He was found guilty by a jury on all three counts and sentenced to five years imprisonment by Judge Patricia Ryan on May 11, 2018. He had no previous convictions.

During the trial, the court heard that Ms Dunne had been walking home pulling a shopping trolley around midday when she began to cross the road. A van slowed to allow her to cross, but Byrne's car then hit her and she was “flung up in the air” before the vehicle came to a stop.

Byrne has Type 2 Usher Syndrome which is a degenerative eye disorder resulting in peripheral vision loss, the court heard. He moved to appeal his conviction on Friday in the Court of Appeal where judgment was reserved. 

Counsel for Byrne, Michael O’Higgins SC, said the "best driver out there" on a good day had between half-a-second and 1.3 seconds to avoid the incident.

Mr O'Higgins said it was a very dangerous part of the road to make a crossing. The pedestrian crossed into the middle of the road, paused and allowed a car to pass before continuing into the second part of the road, leaving Byrne with "a second" to stop, counsel said. 

“If someone puts themselves in a situation where they are in immediate danger,” then the driver should not be the only person to bear legal responsibility, counsel submitted. 

Mr O’Higgins said there was no evidence from any expert to say Byrne’s eye condition, or the lack of peripheral vision, contributed to the accident. He said the existence of an eye condition should not to be automatically equated with dangerous driving.

Counsel for the Director of Public Prosecutions, Fionnuala O'Sullivan BL, said Usher's Syndrome was one of the circumstances the jury could have taken into account, albeit a very significant circumstance. Ms O'Sullivan said the injured party was available to be seen from 65 metres away. Assuming Byrne was driving at 50 km/hr, she said he was 7.24 seconds away from the moment Ms Dunne started to cross the road and 2.84 seconds away from when she crossed the middle of the road.

Ms O'Sullivan said the moment Ms Dunne started to cross the road, one would have expected there to a reaction from Byrne, such as slowing down. But there were a number of pieces of evidence to show there was no reaction.

The evidence was that contact was made at 49 km/hr. A number of witnesses in the vicinity did not hear any breaking or skidding and did not see breaking lights, Ms O’Sullivan said. 

President of the Court of Appeal Mr Justice George Birmingham, who sat with Ms Justice Máire Whelan and Ms Justice Isobel Kennedy, said the court would reserve its judgment.