The loss of a young County Tipperary mother who was killed when the car in which she was a passenger was struck by a truck on a motorway hard shoulder has left “a huge hole” in the lives of her family and left her baby daughter “having to grow up without a mother,” a court has heard.
Nicola Kenny (26) from Kennedy Park in Thurles was killed instantly on September 5, 2016, just a day after the birth of her only child Lily Rose. She was being driven to Temple Street Hospital to visit her daughter by her aunt, with her mother also in the car, and they pulled into the M8 hard shoulder between Cahir and Cashel to take a call from the hospital to say the new baby was fine.
A truck travelling in the same direction crashed into the back of the car and Nicola died at the scene while her mother was injured and her aunt spent months in hospital with serious injury.
The truck-driver, Ciaran McBride (33) of 38 Tivenmara Road, Carna, Keady, Co Armagh, pleaded guilty at Clonmel Circuit Court to careless driving causing death and serious injury. He was given an 18 month prison sentence, suspended for two years, and ordered to pay €10,000 in compensation to the deceased’s parents.
The crash was attributed to “driver error,” the court heard. The accused had left his home in Armagh at 4.30am that morning, driven 60km to Kells in Co Meath and then 320km to Cork to make two deliveries, before another 90km from Cork in the direction of Cashel, with the crash happening at 12.25pm between the Cahir and Cashel exits.
Ciaran McBride told gardaí in interviews that he had taken the statutory 15 and 30 minute breaks that morning but his tachograph was incorrectly inserted in the truck so this couldn’t be checked. Based on checking the records at toll booths the accused passed through, Garda Declan Corrigan said he would “have to dispute” this account of taking breaks.
A witness, engineer Patrick Foley, told gardaí that he overtook the truck shortly before the crash and noticed the space between his car and the truck “becoming greater because the truck was slowly veering off towards the hard shoulder” in a gradual movement.
“When he saw the car and saw where the truck had gone, he immediately thought there was going to be an impact,” Garda Corrigan said.
Garda Corrigan was one of the first at the scene and found Nicola Kenny in the rear passenger seat of a Ford Focus car. “Nicola appeared to be dead. There was no sign of life.” Her mother Anne Kenny, who had been a front seat passenger, asked him was her daughter dead and he informed her that there was no sign of life.
Ciaran McBride was arrested at the scene. A breathalyser test was negative. He had a conviction for drink-driving going back to when he was 18, and for “smuggling” a person in his truck in France, when some people got into his truck without his knowledge.
Nicola had given birth the day before the crash, in hospital in South Tipperary General Hospital in Clonmel, to a baby girl, Lily-Rose, who had become unwell and was transferred to Temple Street children’s hospital in Dublin.
On the day of the crash, Nicola’s aunt and mother collected her from Clonmel and made their way to the motorway to head for Dublin. After going onto the M8 at Cahir, Nicola got a call from Temple Street and asked her aunt to pull into the hard shoulder while she took it.
“The phone call was to tell Nicola the baby was fine and there was no need to travel to Dublin. As she finished the phone call, the car in which she was a back seat passenger was struck from behind.”
A victim impact statement prepared by Nicola’s mother, Anne, said “Nicola’s premature death as a young mother has had a devastating effect on myself and our entire family” and that life will “never be the same”.
Her father, Paddy, said in his victim impact statement that the death “has left a huge hole in our lives” and the biggest loss has been suffered by Lily-Rose, “having to grow up without a mother”.
Nicola’s family did not attend court for the sentencing hearing. Her parents are in the process of securing guardianship of Lily-Rose.
Philip Sheahan SC, for the accused, said his client had made contact with Nicola’s family about attending her funeral, but did not attend in accordance with their wishes. He had suffered a “fit of sneezing” just before the crash and “it was on account of that, it would appear, that his vehicle veered sharply into the hard shoulder”.
Mr Sheahan assured the court “that the remorse and regret and sorrow is profound on Mr McBride’s account” although this “pales in comparison” with the pain and suffering of the victim’s family.
He said his client is a married man who is no longer a truck-driver but now employs five people.
Judge Teehan said the consequences of what happened “during a few seconds on this day in September 2016” have been “enormous” for the Kenny family.
He put the offence in the “upper range” of such offences, with two years in prison the maximum sentence for careless driving causing death. It was not a crime of intent, the judge said, but a crime of “recklessness” and on the issue of whether it was a case of “falling asleep at the wheel” or having a sneezing fit, the first possibility was “by far the most likely,” because of the gradual movement of the truck towards the hard shoulder, observed by witnesses.
He gave the accused credit for co-operating with the gardaí and pleading guilty, as well as his “genuine remorse” for what happened. “He is somebody who is going to have to live for the rest of his days with the knowledge of the fact that he has caused the death of another human being, that he has caused life-changing effects to an entire family.”