herald

Wednesday 22 January 2020

'To drive so drunk was the same as loading a gun and shooting'

Dad Mark Grimes makes a plea to stop drink-drivers this Christmas as he tells Laura Lynott about the tragic death of his son Callum three years ago, how the family coped when his partner was diagnosed with cancer and how this country’s justice system needs to change

Heartbroken dad Mark Grimes has pleaded with drivers not to get behing the wheel drunk. Photo: Mark Condren
Heartbroken dad Mark Grimes has pleaded with drivers not to get behing the wheel drunk. Photo: Mark Condren

A heartbroken father has said his son's life was destroyed by a drunk driver who drove his vehicle like a "loaded gun and shot it, taking a beautiful human being out of this world".

Callum Grimes (27), from Rush, north county Dublin, suffered catastrophic injuries when he was knocked down by a van driven by firefighter Derek Keane (40) on December 27, 2016.

The young man's father, Mark, is today pleading for the public to never drink and drive as he marks the third anniversary of the loss of his beloved son.

Beautiful

"Derek Keane had been out all day and night and drank 15 pints and a gin," Mark said.

"Driving drunk was the exact same as loading a gun and shooting it. He took a beautiful human being out of this world.

"One person made that mistake but two sets of families are suffering, ours and his.

"Not only has our family been ruined, but another family has too.

"I don't have sympathy for him but I do for his two small children without their father at Christmas time, and that's wrong.

"He didn't just kill Callum, he caused so much pain to our family, to his own family."

Callum, a promising young rapper who'd been devoted to his family, died in Beaumont Hospital seven months after the hit-and-run. His father Mark made the decision to turn off the life support machine.

Callum had been enjoying St Stephen's Day in a pub with his father when he announced he wanted to become an organ donor and just months later, Mark remembered his son's wish, donating his organs to help five people.

Keane, from the Cottage, Loughshinny, Skerries, north county Dublin, was sentenced to five-and-a-half years earlier this month.

Callum's three sisters and his young niece and nephew, his grandmother Eva, in her 80s, and his large extended family and friends, all mourn his loss.

Tragically while her son was in hospital, fighting for life, his mum Catherine Grimes was diagnosed with cervical cancer, which is now terminal.

"The reason we got an early date for sentencing was due to Catherine," Mark said. "Four days after we buried Callum, Catherine went for her first cancer treatment in St Luke's.

"She battled through it but one of her biggest regrets was she couldn't be there every day by Cal's bedside.

"She went through cervical cancer and was only in remission a few months when it came back with a vengeance in the cervix and lungs.

"Catherine was given three months to live five months ago but she keeps battling away.

"She couldn't come to the sentencing and it was something we fought so hard for.

"She's a very strong woman but you wouldn't wish what we've been through on anyone.

"We watched our son go through agony. It was as if he died a thousand times, but if you had to go through it with anyone, it would be with Catherine.

"She's an amazing woman, so full of hope and spirit. The only time she said she hated cancer was in the hospice, where she was for pain management.

"She said she couldn't be there for Cal and I don't think she got the chance to really grieve at the time, as she was going from one hospital to another, to another.

"Catherine was so busy fighting herself. The day Callum went for the last operation, Catherine asked me in the car what did I think. I said 'you should say goodbye'. She started crying.

"I had been sitting with him and I could see him going downhill. The right hand side (of his head) was swelling.

"We went on the day of the last operation and walked down with Cal. Catherine told him to go to sleep, that he'd fought long enough.

"I think she regretted not being with him his last couple of weeks, as she'd been getting treatment.

"But we all saw him before I gave the go-ahead to turn off the machine," Mark added.

Keane told gardai he has no recollection of getting into his van to drive home to Skerries in the early hours of December 27.

He went to gardai later that day, saying he'd noticed his van had been damaged and he'd heard reports of a young man being injured in a hit-and-run.

Keane pleaded guilty to dangerous driving causing death and failing to provide assistance at the scene.

Callum had been walking along the road, on his way home after failing to get a taxi when he was hit by Keane's van.

The rapper had spent the earlier part of Stephen's Day with his dad and relatives before joining some friends.

He was due to work at a clothes shop the next day and drivers passing by stated he'd been walking with caution, stepping out of the way when vehicles approached.

Donor

The Grimes' solicitor, Dermot McNamara, said it was the family's belief "their son would be alive and with their families today, if he had received urgent medical attention".

Callum went through 15 surgeries, including a craniotomy, during his time at Beaumont, but he finally succumbed to his injuries on July 14, 2017.

"Myself and Cal had talked on Stephen's Day about organ donors," Mark said.

"I gave him my wallet to pay for a drink and he saw my organ donor card and he said 'I'm going to get one of them'.

"He was saying everyone should have an organ donor card. Cal was kept on life support for 24 hours after the decision was made, until the organ donation people came in.

"Everyone got the chance to say goodbye. All the organ donor recipients wrote to us, I got the last letter recently, from the person who got his kidneys.

"It's all anonymous. Catherine has four letters, one from the man that got his heart, who said he's able to run round his backyard with his young grandkids, for the first time.

"They all wrote lovely letters, it brings us peace. Five people got the miracle we prayed for and that's an amazing tribute to our son. He didn't have a donor card but I was allowed to give permission. He left a great legacy of five people he helped live.

"We take comfort part of Callum is still out there, living a life and smiling large."

Mark feels the judicial system doesn't punish drunk drivers who wind up killing innocent people with tough enough sentences and that the legal system also leaves families waiting too long for justice.

"Five-and-a half years for taking someone away from a family, isn't sufficient," he said.

"For the rest of our lives, we'll never see Cal's smile again and no amount of time will be enough.

"When he pleaded guilty, even though it took him to the day of the court case, he was given some remission for that and for other things.

"Cal got no remission, he got seven months of absolute torture in that hospital bed.

"It's too light a sentence but I'd like to think Derek Keane made a mistake and he'll learn from his mistake and when he goes home to his two small kids, he'll love them as much as I loved Callum and raise them the right way."

Mark and his family are encouraging everyone to get an organ donor card this Christmas and for those who wish to help others who are seriously ill in Beaumont Hospital, they encourage readers to donate what they can at: beaumontfundraising.ie/your-help-matters/Help-over-400000-patients-receive-better-care/high-dependency-monitors- for-neurosurgery-wards.

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