26-year-old motorist jailed for causing multiple deaths

Letterkenny Courthouse
Letterkenny Courthouse

The 26-year-old driver of a vehicle who crashed, causing the deaths of eight people in 2010, was jailed for four years for dangerous driving causing death, when he appeared before Letterkenny Circuit Court.

Shaun Kelly of Hill Road, Ballymagan, Buncrana, pleaded guilty to the charge, which relates to a crash on July 11, 2010, between Clonmany and Buncrana. Kelly was behind the wheel when his car collided with an oncoming vehicle. The collision was described as ‘the most devastating crash in the history of the Irish state’.

Judge John O’Hagan handed down the jail term, suspending the last two year of the jail term and also ordered Kelly to observe a 10-year driving ban.

The court heard how the 66-year-old driver of the other car and seven of Kelly’s friends and relatives, who were packed into his Volkswagen Passat, were all killed in the collision. Kelly and the other young men, among them two of Kelly’s cousins, had spent the hours before the crash watching the football World Cup final in Clonmany.

Those killed were: Hugh Friel, aged 66; Eamon McDaid, 22; Mark McLaughlin, 21; Kelly’s first cousin, Paul Doherty, 19; Ciaran Sweeney, 19; Kelly’s second cousin, Patrick PJ McLaughlin, 21; James McEleney, 23; and Damien McLaughlin, 21.

During the hearing relatives of the victims outlined in harrowing detail the impact of their loss, with a number urging the judge to spare Kelly from a jail sentence.

Paul Doherty’s father Felix said: “We feel Shaun is serving his own life sentence, we don’t believe a prison sentence is needed.”

Kelly was seriously injured in the crash and suffered a brain injury which, the court heard, continues to impact his mental capacity. During the hearing victim impact statements were heard from the families and the defendant’s father, Liam Kelly, also addressed the court.

He said his son has lost his best friends and he asked the judge not to stop the healing process.

Others who spoke included Mr Friel’s brother, Anthony Friel, and Eamonn Sweeney, whose son Ciaran was killed in the crash. He said that Ciaran had gotten into Kelly’s car willingly and it is unfair that Kelly be left to take all the blame. Kelly being sent to jail was not what Ciaran would want, he said.

The court also heard how Mark McLaughlin’s father had died tragically in 2013 on the anniversary of his son’s death.

Kelly’s father Liam told the court that he, Shaun and their family are deeply sorry for what happened and they apologised to all the families and everyone who had been traumatised by the crash. He also thanked the emergency services and the victims’ families, who had given his family “great comfort and support”.