Gardai nearly run over by out-of-control driver

A man who led gardai on a high-speed pursuit during which he dangerously overtook a bus and forced oncoming traffic into a ditch and a garda officer to jump out of the way to safety at a checkpoint has been jailed for 10 months this week.

Michael Sweeney (33 ) with an address at 20 Yeats Heights, Ballytivnan, Co Sligo, appeared at Galway District Court on Monday to face seven counts of dangerous driving at various points including Polkeen in Castlegar, Castlekreevey, Carrowbrowne, and Ballindooley Cross, on June 13, 2009, and for failing to give a breath sample.

Inspector Sean Glynn told the court that the defendant had been driving from Headford in the direction of Galway city and an off-duty garda, on his way to work, had been driving behind him. Sweeney then drove his Fiat Punto out onto the incorrect side of the road, forcing oncoming traffic to take evasive action by pulling into the hard shoulder. Garda Phillip Staunton followed Sweeney, who then pulled into the left side of the road when he reached Castlekreevey. Garda Staunton radioed for assistance but as he attempted to get closer and overtake, Sweeney suddenly pulled out in front and took off, forcing the garda to apply his brakes.

The court then heard that at Carrowbrowne Sweeney waited behind a bus which had stopped at a garda checkpoint. When the bus went through the checkpoint the garda officers on duty beckoned for Sweeney to approach. However, he suddenly took off at speed, resulting in Garda Francis McNulty having to jump out of the way to avoid being hit by the out-of-control vehicle. The Fiat Punto then overtook the bus and forced oncoming traffic to pull into a ditch. Gardai followed in hot pursuit towards Polkeen where the chase ended with Sweeney’s car colliding with a trailer.

Inspector Glynn added that as gardai approached the car Sweeney was seen attempting to get into the back of the vehicle which was full of cans and also had other occupants. Sweeney was arrested and brought to Galway Garda Station where he refused to give a breath sample.

The court then heard that Sweeney has previous convicitions for road traffic offences. Only two days prior to this most recent incident Sweeney had been before the courts for drink driving and received a fine as well as a four-year disqualification from driving which was due to come into effect on June 26, 2009. Inspector Glynn further explained that Sweeney was therefore not actually disqualified from driving when apprehended on June 13.

“This is a serious case of dangerous driving,” acknowledged Sweeney’s solicitor Olivia Traynor. Ms Traynor said that her client, who is married with five children, had been drinking heavily at the time of the offence and that it was his family that will now suffer.

Judge Mary Fahy stressed that the defendant drove “so aggressively” that Garda McNulty had to jump out of the way. “Given what we’ve seen all summer in relation to the roads I have to impose a custodial sentence,” said Judge Fahy, before convicting Sweeney and imposing a total sentence of 10 months and disqualifying him from driving for 10 years.

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