A woman who said she was blinded by the sun before hitting a 67-year-old man on his bicycle with her car was found not guilty of careless driving causing death by a jury last week.
Nicola O’Rourke (44) of 3 The Harbour, The Quay, Westport, was found not guilty of careless driving causing death. The case, relating to the death of Matt Walsh (67) on January 10 in 2015, was reported on by the Connaught Telegraph, the Mayo News and Western People newspapers.
O’Rourke said in court that at the time of the collision she was driving at around 40km/h on the L1816 road, near Aughagower village, around 7km outside Westport. The collision happened as the car O’Rourke was driving hit the victim, flinging him into the car’s windscreen and onto the road. As there were no brake marks at the scene, the speed of the car could not be estimated by investigating Gardai.
Walsh was a local man who was known to cycle the road daily. Media reports reported that the court hear that the victim was wearing high-vis and a helmet — although as the victim died as a result of spinal injuries, it is unclear why a helmet was mentioned in court.
An article in the Western People (behind a paywall), the newspaper quoted O’Rourke in court as saying “The road just disappeared” because of the strength of the sun and reported that “Ms O’Rourke said she was frightened and panicked, and believes she took her feet off the pedals of the car.”
A number of witnesses confirmed the strength of the sun. O’Rourke said she had pulled the sun visor down before the collision but was not wearing sun glasses. O’Rourke said she ‘felt a thud’ and that prompted her to look in her mirror, where she said she first spotted Matt Walsh, when he was on the ground after he had been hit by the car she was driving.
Last week before the verdict was heard, the Mayo News reported that she said in count that she wished it didn’t happen but that she did not know what she could have done differently.
A number of reports said outlined how O’Rourke said the sun hit her eyes after she drove around a bend in the road, although there was a conflict between a statement made to gardai and evidence given in court.
In a statement O’Rourke gave to Gardai in the days after the collision she had indicated that she was affected by the sun as she turned the corner, but, in court, she said that this happened closer to the point of impact. This prompted the prosecuting counsel to ask why, if the sun was not blinding her straight away, did she not see the victim between turning the corner and the sun filling her view. She said she did not know why but she said she was paying attention to the road.
According to the Mayo News, the prosecution in the case contended that O’Rourke could have taken evasive action rather than driving with sun in her eyes.
June 28: Westport woman found not guilty of careless driving causing death
June 21: Fatal-crash driver says she was blinded by sun