A motorist was jailed for six years for what a judge described as “harm almost beyond belief” to a young woman aviation radio officer from Kinlough who now can’t move a muscle, eat or speak but whose brain is otherwise fully functional.
Judge Anthony Hunt, who suspended the last two years of the sentence on Martin Kearney for the injuries to Lydia Branley, said he didn’t recall anybody being “so seriously and tragically maimed as a result of a road accident.”
The maximum prison term that could have been imposed was 10 years.
Earlier Judge Hunt heard how 25-year-old former aviation radio controller Lydia, in a victim impact statement read by her sister Andrea, describe how her life had become a nightmare when she was a front-seat passenger in a car driven by 31-year-old Kearney at more than 150 kilometres per hour, or over 94 miles per hour.
Kearney drove a high-powered BMW 3 series car with a 3.2 litre engine shortly after his driving licence was returned half-way through an earlier five-year road ban.
He and a rear-seat male passenger were thrown 10 metres clear in the crash when he lost control turning off a main road onto a slip road and skidded 114 metres. Then the car tumbled over two barriers and rolled and tumbled another 100 metres across grass and struck a pole before halting in a wreck with its roof on the ground.
Lydia was trapped inside and was freed after rescuers used cutting equipment.
She said when she came out of a coma nine months after the accident she was “horrified” to discover she lost the use of her limbs and cannot talk or eat.
Kearney admitted dangerous driving causing serious harm to Lydia at Sligo Circuit court when the judge heard the account of the tragedy.
Sitting at Roscommon Circuit Court on Thursday, the judge passed sentence, which included a 20-year driving ban on Kearney, of Farranoo, Ballina.
Lydia, sitting in a wheel-chair with members of her family standing close by, was there to hear the sentence.
Judge Hunt said she was successful in her education and in her chosen career. He added: “After this accident her mind is still present but her body almost has ceased to function. Anybody who heard the evidence would appreciate the devastation brought about by Mr Kearney’s actions.”
Public education and information campaigns directed mainly against young men speeding appeared to have somewhat limited success.
He said very great speed was the primary cause of the tragedy and there was no evidence of drugs or alcohol consumption.
He recalled that Kearney worked in the motor industry and his driving on the night of the accident at 12.30 a.m. on September 30 at Drumiskabole, Sligo, was “gross” and departed from what could be expected from a reasonably competent driver.
Kearney was also injured in the collision and spent seven weeks in hospital and may yet have to undergo surgery.
The judge said he was taking that, and his early guilty plea, into consideration in the penalty.
Lydia, of Largydonnell, near Kinlough, Co. Leitrim, worked at Ballygirreen, Co. Clare, as a radio officer linking communications between air traffic controllers at Prestwick in Scotland and pilots in mid-Atlantic.
She was recruited in 2009 in a group of 12 chosen from 900 applicants to deal with more than 1,000 aircraft crossing the North Atlantic every 24 hours.
Colleagues recall that she was involved in communications between controllers and the pilot of Air Force 1 when it flew President Barrack Obama across the Atlantic to Europe.
An Irish Aviation Authority spokesperson, who knew Lydia, said: “She was very bright and articulate. She was a lovely person with a delightful brightness in her eyes.”