A 26-year-old man was jailed for two years for his role in what is being described as the worst car crash in Ireland's history. Shaun Kelly was deemed responsible for the two car collision which killed seven of his friends and an elderly man.
Kelly finally pleaded guilty to causing the deaths in July 2014 after more than two years denying it.
The tragedy of the case was heightened in court as the families of those killed cried loudly.
While the other eight men died Kelly was left with a brain injury. He stared at the court floor during his sentencing.
The incident took place on July 11, 2010 on the road between Clonmany and Buncrana in County Donegal. Representing the state, lawyer Alex Owens explained to the court that Kelly and his seven friends had been watching the World Cup Final soccer match (Spain V Netherlands) at the High Stool Bar, in Clonmany.
An eyewitnesses saw Kelly speeding out of the village, his car’s tires screeching and smoking. His seven friends were in the car.
An eyewitness, James Gallagher, told the court that Kelly came up behind him before driving back. He was swerving and going at speed. Gallagher recalled saying to himself, “If you don’t don't slow down you are going to kill someone."
Twenty seconds later Kelly crossed over the road and collided with Anne McGilloway’s car. The collision was so powerful that it ripped the front wheel off her car.
Farther along the road Kelly swerved again. This time his car went sideways and into the path of 66-year-old Hugh Friel’s car. Friel’s car was fired 18-meters up the road, from the impact, where it collided with a telegraph pole.
Kelly was badly injured and the other seven in his car were killed. None of them had been wearing seatbelts.
Those who died in the crash were:
- Hugh Friel (66), from Urris, Clonmany
- Eamon McDaid (22) from Ballymagan, Buncrana
- Mark McLaughlin, (21) from Ballinahone, Fahan
- Paul Doherty (19), from Ardagh, Ballyliffin
- Ciaran Sweeney (19) from Ballyliffin
- Patrick J McLaughlin (21) from Roxstown, Burnfoot
- James McEleney (23) from Meenaduff, Clonmany
- Damien McLaughlin (21) from Umricam, Buncrana
On July 11, 2013, the anniversary of the crash, Mark McLaughlin’s father, John, committed suicide.
Victim impact statements were heard from the families of the dead men in court.
Anthony Friel, brother of Hugh, who lived with the victim also said that he had considered suicide on several occasions since the accident. He added that he had been unable to farm his land since his brother’s death.
He told the court, “I ask 'how can a 66-year-old man be wiped off the face of the earth?'
“My world has fallen apart. My world has been turned upside down."
He added that his family felt very angry.
PJ McLaughlin's sister, Aoife, criticized the defense’s case saying, “We have a full life sentence.
"This will be our fifth Christmas without PJ. He always took the seat at the head of the table. The manner in which Shaun Kelly dealt with this case has made it so much more difficult."
She continued, “We are still grieving for our PJ – the loss of a life for what it could have been and what it should have been.”
Although they are angry with how the case was dealt with the families added that they did not see any point in jailing Kelly.
Eamonn Sweeney’s father, Ciaran, told the court “He (Kelly) needs all the help and support he can get, not punishment. Enough lives have been ruined . . . sending him to jail will make it harder for us – it is not what Ciaran would have wanted."
Shaun Kelly’s father, Liam, said that although his son was incapable of speaking in court he wanted to apologize to all of the families.
Liam added that he had persuaded his son not to go to America in the months before the crash. He said, “If he had gone this accident would not have happened.”
Kelly was given a four year sentence with two suspended. Handing down the sentence Judge John O’Hagan said, “It's at times like this it is difficult to be a judge; the tragedy which unfolded was horrific, beyond description."
He said “I will punish him for what he did but I will not take revenge."