Habitual drunk driver who killed partner in crash jailed

Downpatrick Court House
Downpatrick Court House

An habitual drunk driver who killed his partner and seriously injured a van driver when he got behind the wheel having drunk 13 pints of beer was jailed for six years on Friday.

Jailing David Curry, 58, at Antrim Crown Court, sitting in Downpatrick, Judge Brian Sherard told the killer driver who was himself seriously injured in the crash which claimed the life of Maureen Beggs and caused serious injuries to Francis Cassells, that he had an “appalling” driving record and that the accident “was something that was waiting to happen for 20 years”.

Curry, who remained seated in a wheelchair at the side of the dock and who now lives in a specially adapted bungalow on Lawnbrook Avenue in the Shankill area of Belfast, had earlier pleaded guilty to causing Ms Beggs’ death by driving dangerously on the Moira Road, Crumlin, causing grievous bodily injury to Mr Cassells, also by dangerous driving, driving while disqualified and without insurance, all of which occurred on November 18, 2013.

Judge Sherard ordered him to spend three years in jail and the rest on licence and imposed a 20-year driving ban.

Opening the case against him, prosecuting QC Jackie Orr described how police and paramedics were called to the Moira Road at its junction with the Ballydonaghy Road just after 10pm that night but when they arrived, they “established quickly that it was a fatal collision”.

All three people were trapped in their respective vehicles, Ms Beggs in the passenger seat of her Ford Focus, Curry “unconscious” in the driver’s seat and 69-year-old Mr Cassells in his Ford Transit van.

Ms Beggs, a 47-year-old mother-of-two sons, was pronounced dead at the scene, said Ms Orr.

With many members of Ms Beggs and Curry’s family wiping away tears as they sat in the public gallery, the lawyer said while no one else witnessed the collision, Mr Cassells had told police he had been driving towards Moira when the Ford Focus “appeared across him” and although he “jammed on the brakes, I couldn’t avoid colliding with the other car”.

Quoting from Mr Cassell’s statement, who “couldn’t believe he was still alive,” she told the court he described how “it just came out, it was a flash and it was all over.”

The 69-year-old sustained fractures to his kneecap, sternum and collar bone in the impact and the court heard how he has experienced “emotional, physical and financial impacts”.

Ms Orr told the court how police investigating the tragedy uncovered CCTV footage from the Fiddler’s Bar in Crumlin which showed Curry and Ms Beggs beginning a drinking session just before 4pm that day until the couple left at 9.57pm “during which it appears that the defendant consumed approximately 14 pints” of beer and three measures of brandy.

The couple left the bar and Ms Beggs drove them to a nearby Chinese where on footage taken from there, an unsteady Curry was seen to “stumble” on his way out and the lawyer said it must have been then that he got behind the wheel of the car and drove the 2.5 miles to the scene of the crash.

While a sample taken from Mr Cassells proved he had an alcohol level of zero, hospital staff took a blood sample from an unconscious Curry three hours after the impact and the court heard that when analysed, it revealed a blood alcohol even of 170mgs per 100 mls of blood – more than twice the legal limit of 80mgs.

Curry’s injuries were so severe that he remained as an inpatient initially at the RVH before being transferred to the spinal injuries unit at Musgrave Park Hospital until he was discharged in May 2014.

Interviewed about the incident last August, Curry said he had little or no memory of the events and although he declined to view any of the CCTV footage, accepted that he had drunk copious amounts of beer and that at the time, he had been serving a five-way ban and was not insured.

Ms Orr said there were numerous aggravating features to the case including Curry’s multiple convictions for drink driving, the amount he was over the limit, that he was banned and that as well as causing Ms Beggs death, he had severely injured another victim, submitting that despite his guilty pleas, it was a serious case where the culpability was at a high level.

Defence QC Gavan Duffy told the court it was fair to say that Curry is now “an emotionally devastated individual” who was filled with shock and remorse that he had killed his “life partner” and mother of their two children.

The lawyer said that according to the probation report, Curry said he thinks about Ms Beggs “everyday”.

“I will have to live with what I did for the rest of my life, I have ruined everything,” Curry told the probation officer with Mr Duffy revealing that he bitterly regrets never marrying his partner.

He further revealed the couple had been out celebrating having heard news they would be able to buy their own home but that while Ms Beggs was not in any state to drive either, Curry “would not have anticipated driving the car at any stage”.

“It’s fair to say that the defendant is preoccupied with the consequences of his actions, not just with the death of his partner and the impact that has had on the children and grandchildren but also with the impact of the injuries suffered by Mr Cassells,” said the lawyer, adding that if there was anything Curry could do “to turn the clock back he would do it”.

Mr Duffy said while he accepted there were aggravating features, he submitted that the court can and should take account of his early guilty pleas and the fact that he himself sustained life-changing injuries.

He pleaded with the judge to “temper justice with mercy” in the knowledge that given his injuries which mean he needs help with everyday personal tasks such as washing and going to the toilet, any prison sentence “will present enormous challenges” for Curry.

Jailing Curry, Judge Sherard revealed that his first driving offence happened as far back as 1974 and that since then he had been convicted of drink driving three times in addition to convictions of careless driving and driving without insurance.

He said he considered the “appalling record” to be a significant aggravating feature as was the fact that he was “grossly drunk” and had shown “flagrant” disregard for court-imposed driving bans.

As Curry was led away by prison staff, he said goodbye to members of his family, many of whom were extremely tearful.