A 51-year-old Lithuanian lorry driver who caused the death of Cookstown man Sean McElwee in a head-on crash two years ago was today (Friday) sentenced to a total of 18 months, and banned from driving for ten years.
Dungannon Crown Court Judge Neil Rafferty told Albertas Daskevicius through an interpreter, while he accepted he was “deeply remorseful” his momentary bad decision, although careless, was equally a bad case of driving which just fell short of dangerous driving.
Daskevicius, with an address in Bawn Court, Ballykelly, admitted his careless driving caused the death of 42-year-old Mr McElwee, a well known grounds man at the Fr Rocks GAA club in Cookstown, on April 11, 2015.
He was driving his uninsured box lorry on the Melmont Road between Strabane and Sion Mills, when a 40-foot articulated lorry he was travelling behind, slowed down to turn left.
Instead of slowing, he pulled out into the path of Mr McElwee driving his Citroen Berlingo van, with his father in the front passenger seat.
Prosecuting QC Terrence Mooney said this had left “an unfortunate Mr McElwee... absolutely no chance”.
However, he said while it was accepted it was careless driving, nevertheless the “sole cause” of the tragic accident was the Lithuanian’s critical decision to overtake and to move on to the wrong side of the road, which “created a clear and obvious danger to oncoming traffic”.
Mr Mooney revealed that Mr McElwee’s father later told police that on seeing Daskevicius’ lorry bearing down on them, he shouted to his son: “Where’s that eejit going”.
Mr McElwee snr added that the lorry “just come straight towards us” and that his son tried “to swerve left, but there was nowhere for him to go”.
From the outset Daskevicius admitted his guilt, said Mr Mooney, for the tragic accident which had such devastating consequences. The court heard a weeping Daskevicius told police after the lorry in front of him braked and indicated left, “he saw a big gap to overtake”.
The Lithuanian said he saw the head lights of oncoming traffic, but then “saw nothing more”, before adding: “I trusted myself to overtake, and that’s what happened... I think it was my fault”.
Defence lawyer John McManus told the court that it was accepted that Daskevicius had “made an error in judgement, a single error in judgement”, and that “once he made that error there was nothing he could do to avoid that collision”.
“It was one single act which had such tragic consequences,” added Mr McManus, who said it was also accepted there were no aggravating feature in the case.
The lawyer said it was “quite clear that Mr Daskevicius is extremely remorseful for the devastation he has caused to this family” and that the guilt that flows from that will continue to weigh heavily with him.
Judge Rafferty in his sentencing remarks acknowledge the hurt and devastation suffered by the family of Mr McElwee.
He said the courts always recognised and were aware that any sentence imposed may seem painfully inadequate compared to the loss of any family.
The judge said he had been moved by the comments contained in the victim impact reports, which spoke of Mr McElwee as “a loving family man and a loving son”.
Daskevicius will serve nine months in custody, followed by nine months on supervised licensed parole.