A circuit court trial has heard that the driver of a vehicle that struck and killed a Letterkenny woman on New Year’s night in Ballyshannon in 2015 thought he had ran over a cardboard box on the road.
William McKee, 56, of Carricknahorna, Cashelard, Ballyshannon has pleaded not guilty to driving without due care or attention causing the death of Sheena Stewart at Main Street, Ballyshannon in the early hours of January 1st, 2015.
Opening the case, prosecution , Eileen O’Leary SC, outlined that Ms Stewart had travelled to Bundoran with her boyfriend on December 31st to celebrate New Year's Eve.
The had checked into a B&B and went socialising until they had a disagreement and she decided to go back to Letterkenny.
She walked out of Bundoran to the Finner roundabout where she was observed in an upset condition by two gardaí.
She told them she had a bus pass and they dropped her into Ballyshannon so she could catch a passing bus returning from the airport en route to Letterkenny. It was in the vicinity of the bus stop she was struck by the red Ford Transit minibus taxi being driving by the accused.
Ms O’Leary said the incident was captured on CCTV and showed Ms Stewart on the roadway and she appeared to be hitching a lift.
Sergeant Stewart Doyle told the court that he was on duty on the night and they first saw Ms Stewart in East End Bundoran and a short time later, at 12.50am they saw her near Finner Roundabout laying on a grass verge.She was crying. He said she had drink taken but did not appear intoxicated and they had a conversation.
She said her boyfriend had her money and phone, but refused their help to return to the B&B to get her belongings as she could not remember its name.
They dropped her into Ballyshannon to catch the airport bus that was returning to Letterkenny that night.
He observed her later in the same area at 1.20am.
He was later called to assist at an incident on the Donegal Road and then returned to the town centre area where he saw a taxi bus stopped in the road and a crowd around it. His first impression was there may have a been a fight onboard.
When he checked he saw a person lying curled up on the ground. He had the ambulance called for the other incident on the Donegal Road diverted to Ms Stewart as he could tell it was a very serious situation.
Ms Stewart was pronounced dead at 2.45am in the ambulance and was taken to the mortuary in the Shiel Hospital.
Defence barrister, Colm Smyth SC, said a toxicology report will outline that the deceased woman had “quite an amount of drink taken” and Sgt Doyle said she had drink taken but they both “spoke away” when they met.
Garda John Clancy said he was with Sgt Doyle when they initially spoke to Sheena Stewart in Bundoran and they then took her to Ballyshannon. He later met her again along with his colleague, Sergeant Michael Galvin, who told her that they would be back to check on her after they attended the incident on the Donegal Road.
Asked by Mr Smyth if he had received a call earlier of a report Ms Stewart lying on the roadway in Bundoran, he said he did not. He said he only got a message that there was a woman on the road and assumed it meant standing on the road.
Witness Caroline Murray said she was dropping her two sons to catch a bus to the airport at around 1am when she observed a man she knew, John Cassidy, picking a woman up off the ground and help her onto a bench.
She said her son went over to assist her and she had told him she was intending to get the bus to Letterkenny.
Mrs Murray said on her way home she saw the airport bus arriving and assumed that Ms Stewart would have got on it.
She said Ms Stewart did appear to be unsteady on her feet but she just saw Mr Cassidy lift her off the ground. Mr Smyth said her son saw Ms Stewart fall a second time after he had got on the airport bus, but there was nothing he could do about at the time as he was on the bus.
A statement from Aidan Murray was read into court. In it he said his mother dropped him to the bus and that when on board he saw a woman lying on the road and he called his friends who was a garda who said he would report the incident.
Maurice Kane told the court he was returning from Bundoran on the night when a man called to him to say there was a woman lying on the road on the main street who was difficult to see. He said she was wearing dark clothes and got up off the ground when the gardaí arrived in the area. Denise Gordon, who was with Mr Kane, said she observed the same and when she got off the road she went down a nearby alley.
Scene of crime investigator, Sgt John McFadden, now retired, stated that CCTV obtained showed that Ms Stewart could be seen out on the road. Two cars had to drive around her before she got down on her knees in crouched position on the roadway before the red van ran over her.
The jury were shown this footage.
The sergeant said in his tests he noted that there was a five second window regarding getting on to the road to where the woman was placed at the time of the collision and he calculated the van was travelling “well under the speed limit” at 48 kmph.
He said the driver would not have had the opportunity to see the two cars taking avoidance action as he was still coming around the nearby roundabout.
A pathologist at Letterkenny University Hospital stated the cause of death was multiple injury consistent with crushing by a motor vehicle.
The trial continues in Donegal Town Circuit Court before Judge John Aylmer.