A 23-year-old man who mowed down and killed his cousin following a disagreement over a garden shed was yesterday handed a three-year sentence.
Dungannon Crown Court Judge Mr Justice Weir told Anthony Joseph Quinn that he will spend 18 months in prison followed by 18 months on supervised licence upon his release for a “serious case of bad driving” which resulted in the death of 37-year old Declan Quinn.
As he was being led from the dock Quinn turned to face members of Declan’s family who were sitting in the public gallery. He gestured with three fingers, winked and smiled at them. The grieving family maintained a dignified silence but were visibly upset outside the courtroom.
Quinn, from Maplebrook Hill, Coalisland, was originally charged with murdering and causing the death by dangerous driving of his second cousin Declan Quinn, but the charges were withdrawn when he pleaded guilty to manslaughter.
Mr Justice Weir, sitting in Belfast’s Laganside courthouse, told Quinn that on July 16, 2011 “you deliberately drove blindly in the direction of two men who you knew to be on the road” after ducking down whilst behind the wheel of the car.
Quinn, a disqualified driver, was driving a Vauxhall Corsa on the Gortgonis Road in the Co Tyrone town, when he hit his cousin who was flung over the bonnet of the car into the air. He later claimed that he thought the 37-year-old had been armed with a handgun, but there was no evidence to suggest this was the case.
Declan, who suffered brain injuries, a severed spinal cord, broken neck and two broken legs, died in hospital two days after the fateful collision following his family’s decision to turn off the life support machine. The court heard that Declan’s brother Joseph, who is a priest, administered the Last Rites to his brother, who sustained what the Judge described as “catastrophic injuries.”
Earlier this week, prosecuting QC Philip Mateer, reading from a set of agreed facts, said that Quinn had gone to his father’s home in his grandmother’s car after receiving a call, shortly before 9am that morning, that his house was under attack by three men. The intruders, two of Quinn’s cousins, and another man, had gone to his father’s to complain about a shed which had been set on fire.
As Quinn arrived, the men were leaving, and as he reversed away, he was chased in a Mercedes car by one cousin, while another cousin Declan Quinn and a third man chased after him on foot. Mr Mateer said Quinn managed to give the Mercedes the slip by doing a hand-brake turn and was returning in the direction of his father’s when he came upon the other two men on a traffic island on the main road.
The court heard that Quinn initially told police he had believed all three men had been armed, one with a handgun, one with a sledge hammer and the other with a hammer. A witness also claimed the men were armed, but that the third man was carrying a spade. However, police only recovered a claw hammer from the scene.
Mr Mateer later agreed it would be “difficult ....to exclude the possibility that in the mind of the accused, he thought either one of the men had a gun” when he struck his cousin whilst travelling at between 29-39 mph in a 30 mph zone, causing him irreversible, irretrievable damage to his spine.
Defence QC Eilis McDermott said that Quinn had played no part in instigating events that fateful morning. He found three men, she said, on arrival to assist his father and then later believed he was about to be shot during events “which he found fast moving and terrifying”.
Mr Justice Weir said he accepted Quinn had been affected by an incident in his childhood, when shots were fired at a car he and his father were travelling in. Saying that most of Quinn’s offending was linked to driving offences on both sides of the border, the Judge told the court that Quinn committed two further motoring offences - one of which resulted in police deploying a stinger - whilst he was on bail for the manslaughter of his cousin.
As well as being handed a three-year sentence, the Judge also banned Quinn from driving for six years.
Speaking of the deep impact Declan’s death has had on his family, Mr Justice Weir said he hoped they gained comfort from that fact that his death has helped several people waiting for a transplant, as he was a registered organ donor.
The lives of several people - some of whom were children - were changed forever by Declan’s family who followed his final wish to have his organs donated. Among those helped was a then four-year-old girl, blind from birth, who saw her parent for the first time through Declan’s donated corneas, while another child, a cancer sufferer, received his liver.
Speaking on behalf of the family and with his mother Vernonica at his side, Father Joseph Quinn said: “On behalf of my mother, father and two brothers, I should like to make the following statement.
“A nightmare began for us as a family on the 16th of July 2011 when Declan was killed by Tony Quinn. We lost a son, a brother, an uncle and a friend with a smile that brightened all who knew Declan. Declan can never be replaced and we will never see him again or enjoy his company.
“We hope and pray that the nightmare will end today with the decision of the Judge and the end of this long drawn out case.
“We as a family wish to move on with our lives and while as a family we have suffered the pain of great grief at the tragic loss of Declan, we have forgiven Tony Quinn for the terrible loss and pain that he has inflicted on us.
“We accept the apology and outpouring of remorse Tony Quinn has made through his barrister about the killing of Declan.
“A glimmer of light has shone through the pain of the loss of Declan as he always carried a donor card. Thanks to Declan’s thoughtfulness and kindness and willingness to share, seven people and their extended families have been given the chance of a better quality of life.
“We wish to thank all those who have supported and prayed for us during this terrible time. We should also like to express our thanks to Nicola Scott, family liaison officer, for her kindness and compassion.”