A dangerous driver was on Thursday jailed for 18 months after he stole a vintage car with a pet dog inside and then lost control at high speed smashing into a parked vehicle.
Kieran Callaghan, 19, of McDonnell Street, Belfast, was told by a judge that he will have to serve a further 18 months on supervised licence on release from prison.
The teenager pleaded guilty at Belfast Crown Court to dangerous driving, aggravated theft and causing damage to a car and failing to stop for police.
He further admitted failing to report an accident, driving with no insurance and failing to remain at the scene of the accident.
A prosecution lawyer told the court that on October 14, last year, the owner of a 30-year-old Ford Escort car parked it in the Ligoniel area of north Belfast with his Jack Russell dog Spike inside and went off to do some business “but when he returned the car and dog was gone”.
Belfast Crown Court heard that police were alerted to the theft and tried to stop vehicle but the driver refused and took off at speed.
Police then gave chase to the stolen Escort car as it hurtled along the Crumlin Road and Woodvale Road.
“The vehicle came up the Woodvale Road drove at speed around a particularly bend. When police came round the corner, the driver had lost control. He went off the road and crashed into the railings of the park.”
An eyewitness to the crash told the police he had just got out of his car with his two young grand children when “I heard the screeching of wheels and the car coming towards us” before he jumped out of the way with his two grand children.
The witness, who suffered a sprained ankled in the incident, added: “I saw it all in slow motion and thought ‘what am I going to tell my daughter if her two children are killed in this crash’.”
When police arrived at the scene, the prosecutor said officers were shocked to find that no one was in the car but later discovered the driver had been “propelled from the vehicle” due to the force of crash.
He added that the Ford Escort was described as being in a “banana shape” following the smash and has since been written off.
“The standard of the driving was appalling. One might say he is lucky is not facing more serious charges,” the prosecutor told the court.
Judge Gordon Kerr QC was told that police found a trainer shoe in the car which matched Callaghan’s DNA along with his fingerprints and a mobile telephone.
When arrested, Callaghan gave a “no comment” interview and the prosecutor said the defendant had been left with little choice but to plead guilty as he had been “literally caught red handed” by the evidence he left behind in the car.
A defence solicitor said he accepted that the aggravating factors “gave rise to a custodial sentence” but added that the probation service did not assess Callaghan as “posing a serious risk of serious harm to the public in the future”.
Judge Kerr QC described the offences as “extremely serious” given that Callaghan was driving a stolen vehicle dangerously on a public road and at speed.
Other aggravating factors, said the judge, was the Callaghan had failed to stop for police and had 42 previous convictions, many for motoring offences.
The judge added that in his view the appropriate sentence was one of 36 months divided equally between custody and probation.