Man jailed over collision which killed US tourist in Laois

Man Jailed Over Collision Which Killed Us Tourist In Laois
The court heard he and his family had chosen not to travel to Ireland for the hearing or to attend it remotely because it would be too traumatic.
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Seán McCárthaigh

A Circuit Court judge has called on Laois County Council to reduce the speed limit at a famous heritage site following a fatal crash almost 18 months ago which killed a US tourist who had arrived in Ireland just a few hours earlier.

Judge Keenan Johnson recommended that the speed limit on a narrow road where visitors park at the Rock of Dunamase – an early Christian fortress located between Portlaoise and Stradbally, Co Laois – be reduced from its current level of 80km/h to 30km/h after hearing evidence that gardaí consider the existing speed limit is inappropriate.


Judge Johnson made his comments as he sentenced a young, unaccompanied learner driver to 15 months in jail and disqualified him from driving for 15 years after his conviction for causing the fatal collision which killed US tourist, Laura Jones (59) near the Rock of Dunamase.

Jamie Kearns (20), from Cosby Avenue, Portlaoise, Co Laois, pleaded guilty at Portlaoise Circuit Criminal Court to a charge of dangerous driving causing the death of Ms Jones from Parker, Colorado on October 7th 2022.

The unemployed construction labourer also pleaded guilty to a separate charge of dangerous driving causing serious harm to the victim’s husband, Doug Jones, during the same incident which occurred around 1.15pm.

Day of incident

The court heard evidence that the American couple had arrived earlier that morning in Dublin together with their younger daughter, Erin and her husband, Jacob, for the start of a holiday in the south-west of Ireland and had decided to break the journey by visiting the Rock of Dunamase.


As they parked their hired vehicle in a car park near the tourist attraction, they heard a car driving fast before seeing it coming towards them and going completely out of control at high speed.

The court heard that a 09-reg Ford Fiesta driven by Kearns knocked the victim and her husband over a wall before crashing into the wall itself.

A large stone from the wall fell on Ms Jones who suffered fatal injuries and was pronounced dead at the scene, while her husband sustained serious leg injuries and required surgery at the Midlands Regional Hospital in Tullamore later that evening.

At a sentencing hearing on Friday, Judge Johnson noted that Kearns had been driving very fast and had ignored several requests from three friends who were passengers in the vehicle to slow down.


The court heard that Kearns did not accept that he had been driving at excessive speed when interviewed by gardaí.


The judge said it was clear that the accused was driving at an excessive speed which would not allow him to stop in an emergency on a narrow road with a restricted view.

He said Kearns was under a serious misapprehension that his driving was not reckless but added that his low cognitive skills were a factor in him not appreciating the gravity of his offending.

The judge strongly urged Laois County Council to lower the speed limit on the road to 30km/h as he believed it could prevent other families from experiencing “the unspeakable tragedy” suffered by the victim’s relatives.


Judge Johnson said such a measure would “undoubtedly save lives and would be a fitting tribute to the memory of the late Laura Jones.”

In a victim impact statement read out on his behalf, Mr Jones said his family had suffered “overwhelming emotional and physical pain” as a result of what he described as “a careless, reckless, selfish and stupid act.”

“Our lives were changed forever,” said Mr Jones.

He expressed regret at not being able to celebrate his 30th wedding anniversary with his wife a few months later and how she had also missed the wedding of their older daughter, Elizabeth, the following summer.


Mr Jones also expressed dismay that his other daughter had witnessed her mother’s death, while he had suffered injuries which his doctors were unsure would ever fully heal.

The court heard he and his family had chosen not to travel to Ireland for the hearing or to attend it remotely because it would be too traumatic.

Judge Johnson remarked that unfortunately Mr Jones and his wife were in the wrong place at the wrong time and the case was evidence that “bad things happen to good people.”

Aggravating factors

He claimed aggravating factors against Kearns were his driving at a very high speed and ignoring requests to slow down.

The judge also noted that Kearns, who had bought his car just two weeks earlier, was a learner driver who was not accompanied by a fully qualified driver.

He observed that the accused’s driving at the time of the fatal crash had “a degree of bravado and showmanship” which had demonstrated a gross lack of concern for the safety of other road users.

However, he acknowledged that Kearns had entered an early guilty plea which had spared the victim’s family the stress and trauma of a jury trial, while also expressing remorse which the judge accepted was sincere and genuine.

The court heard that Kearns also had some history of substance abuse and being exposed to anti-social influences but was now drug-free and had cut himself off from former friends, although he was assessed as being at a moderate risk of reoffending.

The judge noted that the accused was extremely immature for his age but had been emotionally distressed by the separation of his parents and suffered flashbacks and nightmares about the fatal collision.

He remarked that Kearns was not an inherently bad person but his immaturity had led him to make a very bad decision on the day that Ms Jones was killed.

Imposing a prison sentence of two years and three months, Judge Johnson said he would suspend the final 12 months on condition that on release Kearns keeps the peace for a period of three years and submits himself to supervision by the Probation Service for a period of 12 months and to comply with all its directions.

The judge said he would also require Kearns to engage with psychological services to address his mental health problems after he left prison.

For anyone who might think the sentence was too lenient, Judge Johnson said he believed it was “measured, proportionate, just and fair.”

“It is extremely punitive and far-reaching,” he added.

The judge expressed hope that the victim’s family would appreciate the reasoning behind his ruling and observed that a longer penal sentence would not serve the interests of justice or do justice to the memory of Ms Jones.

For anyone who might think the sentence was too harsh, the judge said it was not designed to punish the accused but to deter others from speeding and driving unaccompanied if a learner driver.

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