A Belfast man whose wife and son were killed by a so-called ‘death driver’ has backed a News Letter campaign for stiffer sentences in light of the fact that the driver served only four years in prison.
Darren Fields, 22, from Ardglass had been drinking heavily and driving a stolen car at high speed when he knocked down Dana Fitzpatrick, 28, and her eight-year-old son Kevin Daniel in Belfast in 2000.
In 2001 Belfast Crown Court judge Anthony Harte called for tougher sentences to be imposed on so-called joy riders after sentencing Fields to seven years in prison for the offence.
The judge described the maximum sentence he could impose for the crime as “woefully inadequate”.
Kevin Fitzpatrick, husband and father of Dana and Kevin, told the News Letter that Fields ultimately only served around four years in jail.
He is strongly in favour of stiffer sentences for such offenders and backs the News Letter campaign.
“Of course I would support an increase in sentences,” he said. “Anybody who gets into a car and drives recklessly - it is like a deadly weapon.
“Where causing death is concerned anything up to 14 years is appropriate.”
He added: “The people like those that killed Dana and Kevin - they do three to five years in prison and if they are 19, 20, 25 or 30... after four or five years they get out and restart their lives.
“They may hold remorse or they may not. But the family that lost a loved one get a life sentence. It is the same for any family that lost a loved one. All people want is a fair sentence.”
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NIGHT OF TRAGEDY
Dana, 28 and their eight-year-old son Kevin Daniel had gone out to meet a friend who was coming to visit them by bus on the night in December 2000.
They left about 9.30pm and Kevin dozed off.
He woke up and noticed they were not back. A few minutes later a neighbour rang Kevin’s doorbell saying there had been a major accident.
He quickly made his way down and found the accident scene cordoned off by police.
Police let him through and he could see “something” lying on the road.
“I knew when they let me through that something serious had happened. As I got closer I could see it was Dana - she was dead on the road.
“She had this yellow jacket covering her which she had bought me for Christmas - a nice warm coat.
“Obviously I lost it and I was crying. Minutes seemed like hours. Time had just stood still.
“Then I kept asking them where was Kevin Daniel.”
His quiet eight year-old-son had in fact been dragged 100 yards down the street by the driver and was found under a car and died soon after.
A phone call broke the news to him. “That is when I really lost it.”
They found Kevin Daniel at the Royal Victoria Hospital where he was lying on a bed with two priests standing nearby.
“Kevin was on a bed with a blanket up to his chest and he had a few bruises. He just looked like he was asleep.”
Kevin senior arrived back home that night with family and friends.
“But I found I just couldn’t enter the house. I don’t know what it was.”
The family buried Dana and Kevin about four days before Christmas. A psychologist told him that the fine details of that night would always stay etched in his memory, due to the shock.
MATCH MADE IN HEAVEN
Dana was a care assistant from Liverpool. The couple met at a disco on her 18th birthday when she was visiting relatives in Belfast. Kevin was 20.
“Dana was not just a wife to me. She was a best friend.
“The day and hour that Dana and I met the two of us clicked and it just seemed right. It was a match made in heaven. Her aim in life was just to make her kids happy.” His son, Kevin Daniel was a “very shy type of lad”. He added: “He kept to himself. He was a typical eight year old boy. He never got into any fights or any bother.”
His biggest regret, he said, was that his other two children, Ann Marie and James, grew up without their mother.
One of the three people in the car dropped incriminating evidence after colliding with another car. They all ran off.
“They were driving around Belfast at high speeds in a stolen vehicle.”
The driver, Fields, had previously been banned from driving.
They drove up Duncairn Gardens at very high speeds and came around the corner around at 70mph before hitting Dana and Kevin Daniel as they crossed the road.
“Dana was there and Kevin was beside her holding her hand. He struck Donna and eye witnesses said she was flung into the air. The coroners report said that her body basically snapped in two and she was killed instantly.”
Dana’s mother - Kevin Daniel’s grandmother, Margaret McAllister, had to be sedated after hearing the news.
The tragedy prompted Kevin to join with other families from north and west Belfast - Catholic and Protestant - whose loved ones had been killed as result of “joy-riding”.
The group, Families Bereaved Through Car Crime, refused to use the term, re-branding the crime “death driving”.
“Our goal was to save lives.”
They won support from the SDLP, Sinn Fein and DUP. In 2004 they took their campaign to Westminster, meeting MPs and handed a petition in at 10 Downing Street.
“We did not know at the time the impact we had made.”
In 2006 a new offence was introduced across the UK; Aggravated Vehicle Taking, with a maximum sentence of 14 years.
“To us it was a great achievement. Some members of our group had been campaigning from 1992.”
“Every family went through the same. We all became close friends.
“But we never want to see anybody join our group because unfortunately the people who join have to lose a loved one.”
He maintains that four years in jail was not enough for his wife and son’s killer and that sentences must be increased.
“Three or four years [in jail] is not going to change anyone. But 10 years plus or even 14 years is enough for people to reflect on what they have done.”