Pedestrian death – garda guilty of careless driving

By Declan Brennan

A jury has convicted a serving garda of careless driving causing the death of an elderly pedestrian four years ago.

Warren Farrell (35), a garda serving in Clondalkin was on duty as the driver of a marked patrol car that was responding to a panic-button call at a Topaz garage when the car struck Elizabeth Core.

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He had pleaded not guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to dangerous driving causing the death of the 75-year-old as she crossed the Fonthill Road on August 28, 2014.

Judge Cormac Quinn advised jurors that they could convict Garda Farrell on a charge of dangerous driving causing death or of careless driving causing death.

After around four hours of deliberations, the jury of six men and six women returned a majority verdict, finding him guilty of careless driving.

Earlier, Judge Quinn told the jury that careless driving could be described as driving that falls below the standard of care and attention expected of a reasonably competent driver, creating a risk of harm to others.

The defendant exhaled heavily and hung his head briefly after hearing the verdict. Judge Quinn remanded him in continuing bail to February 22 for sentence.

James Dwyer SC, prosecuting, had asked the court to give the prosecution time to prepare victim-impact statements. Members of the Core family, who were present in court throughout the trial, nodded that this date suited.

Judge Quinn thanked the jurors for their service in what he said was a difficult case. He extended his sympathy to the Core family for their tragic loss.

In his closing speech Mr Dwyer told the jury that Garda Farrell made an assumption that Mrs Core was aware of the garda patrol car which the State contends was travelling at around 56 to 58kmh at the point of impact on a road with a 50kmh speed limit.

He said this was an assumption he couldn’t make, citing that the Garda’s “Response Driving Course manual” states “It must never be assumed that the sounding instrument will be heard by other road users and pedestrians”.

The jury heard there was conflict in the witness accounts as to whether the siren was active when the patrol car was on the Fonthill Road.

Mr Dwyer said that Garda Farrell had a clear view of the pedestrian from 200m before the point of collision, but that heavy braking only began at 10 to 13m before this point.

“Having seen her he decided to continue to drive at the same speed. We have 187m to 190m of driving before hard braking takes place.

“Having seen her in the road, he didn’t decide to ease off. His failure to slow down, or to stop, or to drive at a speed which allowed him to react, is dangerous driving by any standard,” he said.

Closing the defence case Patrick McGrath SC told the jury that this was a terrible tragedy, but that no crime was committed.

“There are many situations where a tragedy occurs and no-one is at fault,” he said.

He said this was a case where somebody made an honest and what they believed at the time to be a reasonable decision which turns out to have consequences which they never intended and never foresaw.

He urged the jurors to look at the decision-making process of a man who was being asked to respond to an incident as quickly as possible.

He told them that the State’s own forensic expert concluded that Garda Farrell believed that Mrs Core would not continue crossing the road and he was surprised when she did.

The evidence was this cost in the order of 2 to 2.5 seconds before he began braking and reduced the distance available to him and reduced his ability to avoid the collision.

“You cannot be satisfied that the decisions made were outside the range of decisions which a reasonable garda driver, asked to respond to this emerging and potentially dangerous situation, would make.

“He went out to do this duty. He no doubt regrets every single day of his life what happened that day,” Mr McGrath said.

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