Cork taxi driver jailed for hit-and-run which caused death of psychiatrist

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Cork Taxi Driver Jailed For Hit-And-Run Which Caused Death Of Psychiatrist Cork Taxi Driver Jailed For Hit-And-Run Which Caused Death Of Psychiatrist
Judge Sean O'Donnabhain jailed Denis McSweeney of Pouladuff Road in Ballyphehane, Cork, for five years suspending the final year of the sentence. He also disqualified him from driving for 20 years.
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Olivia Kelleher

A 75-year-old former taxi driver has been jailed for four years after he pleaded guilty to his involvement in a hit-and-run in which a consultant psychiatrist was killed as he walked back to his hotel in Cork following a Christmas party with his colleagues.

Cork Circuit Criminal Court heard that 49-year-old married father of three, Martin Lawlor, died at the scene on the Airport road in Cork city shortly after 5.30am on December 15th, 2018.

Garda Brid Norris told the court that Lawlor was walking along the road in poor weather conditions when he was hit by a taxi driven by Denis McSweeney of Pouladuff Road in Ballyphehane, Cork.

Garda Norris said that the stretch of road was without street lighting and that there was heavy rain and dense fog when the incident occurred.

Left the scene

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Mr McSweeney, who was without previous convictions, told gardaí that he panicked and left the scene without stopping. He initially claimed that he thought he may have hit an animal.

He went to a hotel to pick up another fare which coincidentally was to Cork airport. He was stopped by gardaí after they noticed significant damage to his vehicle. This included damage to the windscreen and wing mirrors.

Initially McSweeney was evasive with gardaí. However, when he was arrested and detained he accepted that he had struck a pedestrian.

Garda Norris said that Mr McSweeney immediately gave up driving and voluntarily surrendered his licence. He had driven a taxi for 15 to 20 years. He worked all his life primarily as a milkman.

Donal O Sullivan, Junior Counsel, representing Mr McSweeney said that his client was extremely remorseful for his actions.

He insisted that McSweeney "panicked" and didn't seem to appreciate what had happened. He stated that his client lived in nearby Ballyphehane, but such was his panic that he continued driving rather than going home.

Mr O'Sullivan said that his client couldn't turn back the clock much as he wished that his panic hadn't taken him over.

Victim's family

Helen Murphy Lawlor, wife of the deceased, delivered her victim impact statement via video link from her home in Manchester.

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Mr Lawlor, who was a native of Tralee, Co Kerry lived in Manchester but travelled to Ireland for work. He also had family in the Millstreet area of Co Cork.

Mrs Lawlor said that December 2018 was a time of excitement with the festive season and two upcoming birthday celebrations for their daughters Jennifer and Rebecca.

"Instead of Martin coming through the door at 930am, I get a phonecall from his brother John to let me know that Martin had been knocked down and killed by a car while walking towards Cork Airport. Myself and our three children made the lonely journey from Manchester to Cork. There we were soon to be reunited with Martin -- home for the last time in a coffin."

Mrs Lawlor said it was hard to put their loss in to words.

I will forever miss my best friend and confidante, my husband of 25 years

"Jennifer lost her father at 18, Samuel aged 14 and Rebecca was only 12 years of age. He is forever absent from the happy times. He is forever absent in difficult times of sickness, worry and loss. I will forever miss my best friend and confidante, my husband of 25 years."

Mrs Lawlor said that her husband was at the peak of his powers professionally with the HSE and Nua healthcare and was "renowned and respected" for his work. He also did a considerable amount of charity work.

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Mrs Lawlor added that she was finding it difficult to come to terms with the circumstances of his death.

"Being unable to say goodbye was hard and cruel. For such a good and caring man to be left to die on the road alone and the driver left the scene seemingly without compassion or concern is very difficult for us to comprehend."

A champion of mental health

Dr Susan Lawlor, a sister of the deceased, also delivered a victim impact statement in which she paid tribute to the dedication of her brother who was a champion of mental health.

She said Dr Lawlor "went above and beyond was asked of him” professionally and was kind and loving.

Judge Sean O'Donnabhain said that whilst he did not know Dr Lawlor personally he had seen him in action in court.

He described him as man of " considerable compassion" and an "exemplar of his profession" who stepped in to the breach to assist vulnerable people.

He said that he didn't accept the explanation that the pensioner had panicked instead attributing his actions to “callousness.”

Judge O’Donnabhain said that driving away from the scene of a hit-and-run was fundamentally wrong and that McSweeney was "fully aware" he had hit a pedestrian.

Mitigating factors

He accepted that there were certain mitigating factors in the case include the guilty plea, the remorse of the defendant, the lack of previous convictions and the voluntary surrender of the drivers’ licence.

He jailed McSweeney for five years suspending the final year of the sentence. He also disqualified him from driving for 20 years.

McSweeney had pleaded guilty to failing to stop his vehicle after an incident, failing to keep his vehicle at the scene of an accident, failing to report a traffic incident to gardaí and failing to give appropriate information to gardaí.

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Meanwhile, Dr Lawlor was the director of the Centre for Recovery and Social Inclusion in Ireland. He was also the founder of State of Mind Ireland along with his sister, Dr Susan Lawlor.

He particularly advocated for increased awareness of the importance of mental health within sports and youth clubs.

When he died tributes came from amongst others Kerin O'Rahilly's GAA Club in Tralee.

Dr Lawlor was a graduate of University College Dublin (UCD) and the Royal College of Psychiatrists. He commenced employment with the HSE South in 2005.

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