A drink driver who had admitted to consuming alcohol and smoking a cannabis joint before getting behind the wheel of a car and hitting an off-duty garda, severing his foot in the process and leaving him for dead in a ditch has been sentenced to seven years imprisonment, with the final two suspended, as well as a 10-year driving ban.
The cyclist, Inspector Niall Flood was riding his 22-speed carbon frame Giant on the R522 in Limerick in June last year, when he was struck from behind by Niamh McDonnell, and catapulted above the bonnet before landing in a ditch, his right foot coming off in the process.
The court had previously heard that McDonnell, who had smoked a joint of cannabis on the morning of the collision had finished her shift and headed to the pub at 2:30pm, where she consumed five vodkas, five shots of whisky, as well as tequila. She also turned down the offer for a lift home from a friend and instead chose to drive her mother-in-law's car back.
The collision with Mr Flood resulted in a broken windscreen and a flat tyre in McDonell's car, and left the garda with temporary loss of sight, bleeding profusely and other life-changing injuries, however she continued to drive on. Upon reaching home, her partner found Mr Flood's foot still wedged into the front of the vehicle and alerted the authorities.
Limerick Circuit Court heard that a motorist who witnessed the hit-and-run was able to save the cyclist's life by making a tourniquet for his leg wound before he was airlifted to Cork University Hospital. Efforts to re-attach his foot were unsuccessful due to the limb being "contaminated" as it had been wedged into the front headlamp of McDonnell’s car.
McDonnell, who did not stop at the scene, told gardaí she "panicked" when she knew she had struck a person, reports the Irish Examiner. “He [Mr Flood] went up onto the bonnet, my windscreen was destroyed. I kept going, I didn't stop, I kept going,” McDonnell told gardaí after her arrest.
She had also claimed she had only drunk one drink before leaving the pub, something disproved by CCTV footage and bar receipts. A mother of two, McDonnell was charged with dangerous driving causing serious bodily harm, driving while drunk, failing to stop at the scene, failing to provide assistance, and driving under the influence of alcohol and drugs, and pleaded guilty to all the charges.
Mr Flood, a "vastly experienced, highly respected and popular" inspector in the Limerick Garda Division and based in Newcastle West, as well as an experienced cyclist, who was wearing safety clothing and had a light at the time of the collision, was not able to attend the sentencing hearing due to ongoing issues with his injuries which have left him "prone to lung infections".
Mr Flood wrote in his victim impact settlement, which was read to the court on his behalf, how McDonnell’s decision to drive while high on drink and cannabis was “unforgivable and incomprehensible”. Despite the setbacks, he still expressed his desire to continue working for the force.
His wife, Margaret Flood, told the court that she and her husband were "psychologically and physically traumatised". Ms Flood said McDonnell’s behaviour on the day was “criminal” and the collision was “no accident”.
"She [McDonnell] drove off and left him for dead, that is the cruel nature of the defendant... You would stop if you hit a dog," she said, adding that their lives had been "turned our lives upside down".
Judge O'Donnell said that McDonnell was "two-and-a-half times over the limit" after driving on a cocktail of "cannabis, five vodka and Red Bulls, and five other shots of alcohol".
"She went to the pub instead of going home, she was given a lift from the pub to her car but she declined a lift because she said the car was needed at her home,” the judge said.
The judge said McDonnell’s decision to “put herself behind the wheel of a car, while intoxicated” had “shattered” Niall and Margaret Flood's lives. They will have to live with the "catastrophic fall-out".
Judge O’Donnell said McDonnell drove "erratically" and "at speed" on the day, and failing to stop render assistance to Mr Flood had led to "enormous tragic consequences which would have a long-term impact on Niall Flood and his family".
He said McDonnell was "highly culpable", however, he noted she had expressed "genuine remorse", was without any previous convictions and that she had experienced a "difficult childhood and family background which resulted in mental health issues".
The judge said the probation services noted McDonnell was at "low-risk" of re-offending. He added that he could have imposed a headline sentence of eight years but, he said, taking into account all the aggravating and mitigating factors of the case, seven years in jail with the final two years suspended for a period of seven years was the "appropriate sentence".
Adwitiya joined road.cc in 2023 as a news writer after graduating with a masters in journalism from Cardiff University. His dissertation focused on active travel, which soon threw him into the deep end of covering everything related to the two-wheeled tool, and now cycling is as big a part of his life as guitars and football. He has previously covered local and national politics for Voice Wales, and also likes to writes about science, tech and the environment, if he can find the time. Living right next to the Taff trail in the Welsh capital, you can find him trying to tackle the brutal climbs in the valleys.