Former council official almost four times over limit when he caused head-on collision
by Seán McCárthaigh
A former senior council official in County Westmeath who caused a head-on collision which left a young woman with life-changing injuries was found to be almost four times over the legal drink-driving limit at the time of the crash.
The official, Billy Coughlan (65) of Lake Road, Moate, County Westmeath, pleaded guilty to two charges of dangerous driving causing harm and drink-driving on the N52 at Rochfort Demesne, Mullingar on April 4, 2019.
A sitting of Mullingar Circuit Criminal Court today, Thursday, heard that the collision, which was caused by Coughlan’s vehicle crossing into the path of oncoming traffic, resulted in serious injuries to the driver of the other vehicle, Ciara McKenna, who also believed her father, Luke, a front-seat passenger, had been killed in the crash.
The court heard that Coughlan, who was the official responsible for organising meetings of Westmeath County Council for many years, had been returning from the council’s offices in Mullingar, where he had gone “to clear his desk” after retiring from the local authority three days earlier.
Counsel for the accused, Dara Foynes SC, said Coughlan had no memory of going for any drinks on the night but accepted that he must have done so. In a victim impact statement, Ms McKenna (23) described the collision as “the scariest moment of my life” from which she still suffered flashbacks.
The court heard that Ms McKenna had required surgery on her back and foot and had to spend her 21st birthday in bed.
She still suffers pain from her injuries on a daily basis and walks with a limp.
Ms McKenna, who gave birth to her first child last year, said she would never be able to have a normal delivery because of the injuries to her back.
She also stated she had to give up her work in a shop for similar reasons.
In a separate statement, her father said he was knocked unconscious for a short period by the impact of the collision and came around to hear his daughter crying out: “My daddy is dead.”
Garda Grace Carney of Mullingar Garda Station said Coughlan claimed at the scene of the crash that he had consumed two pints.
However, a blood sample he provided contained 193mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood – almost four times the legal limit.
Garda Carney said she also detected a strong smell of alcohol from Coughlan at the time.
Ms Foynes said Coughlan wished to offer his deepest apology and remorse to Ms McKenna and her father for his “irresponsible and careless” actions and had brought €8,000 to court in compensation.
The barrister said her client had not driven his car and had not consumed alcohol since the incident.
Judge Keenan Johnson adjourned sentencing in the case until next week to consider whether he would impose a custodial sentence on Coughlan.
However, the judge said the defendant would be facing a lifetime ban from driving.
“To get in a car with alcohol is reprehensible and cannot be condoned,” the judge remarked.