Saturday 23 February 2019

Driver who killed cyclist while taking labels off kids' toys avoids prison

Maria Harkin
Maria Harkin

A woman wept as it was revealed she fatally struck a cyclist after taking her eyes off the road to help her children take tags off some new toys.

Maria Harkin (38) received a 12-month suspended prison sentence after Cork Circuit Criminal Court heard father-of-one Donal O'Brien (45) was killed instantly when his bike was hit from behind on the N40 South Ring Road near Curraheen in Cork.

He suffered catastrophic head injuries.

Harkin, of Weston View, Carrigaline, Co Cork, pleaded guilty to careless driving causing death on May 14 last year.


Her two young children were in the back seat of her car when she took her eyes off the road and ran into the back of the bicycle being ridden by Mr O'Brien, a well-known garage operator and motorsports enthusiast.

Harkin wept as Judge Sean O'Donnabhain imposed a suspended sentence and disqualified her from driving for five years, telling her it was "carelessness of a very high order".

The judge warned that she should never have allowed herself to be distracted in such a fashion on a busy road.

Mr O'Brien's widow, Sandra, and only child Nicole offered victim impact evidence that Judge O'Donnabhain said was "harrowing and hugely traumatic".

"Life without Donal is very lonely. I am totally lost without him," Mrs O'Brien said.

She said her family were heartbroken by the fact that her husband was only 10 minutes from home when he was killed, and every day they have to pass the spot where he died.

"I know this woman did not set out to deliberately knock Donal off his bike and to kill him that day, but that is what she did," she added.

"It breaks my heart to know that Donal will never get the chance to walk his one and only daughter down the aisle."

Mrs O'Brien revealed that her husband had been discussing retiring so he could spend more time with his family.

Nicole said the events of May 14 were "horrible" for the entire family.

"It breaks my heart - it's a real-life nightmare. I feel cheated about not having my dad," she said.

Encouraged by her father, Nicole had taken up motorsports, and said she still looked for him in the crowd.

Sgt Pat Lyons said Harkin had co-operated fully, made immediate admissions and asked officers to express her condolences to the family.

He said Harkin told them she had just left a Cork toy shop with her children and was distracted by them, taking her eyes momentarily off the road, when they asked for tags to be taken off their new toys.

No brake marks were found at the scene.

"It was a momentary lapse in concentration with catastrophic consequences," Sgt Lyons said.


Judge O'Donnabhain said motorists had a duty of care to other road users, and "keeping a good lookout" was fundamental to that.

"This case should bring to mind the vulnerability of cyc-lists on the road and that drivers need to be spatially aware," he added.

"This man was doing everything right. He was out cycling, trying to keep himself fit. He was fully and properly equipped from the safety point of view.

"A cyclist like this should shine out like a lighthouse in a bog."

However, he said he noted Harkin's co-operation with gardai and her genuine remorse.

He also cited the absence of any other aggravating fac- tors such as speed, alcohol, drugs or previous dangerous driving.

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