A motorist last week was found not guilty of dangerous driving causing the death of Tonya McEvoy, who was part of a group of cyclists from a Dublin cycling club.
A jury of seven men and four women acquitted Kevin Hutchinson of dangerous driving causing the death of Tonya McEvoy on February 12, 2017, at Rathcoffey, Co Kildare, at the end of a five-day trial at Naas Circuit Criminal Court. The jury also found Hutchinson not guilty of the alternative, lesser, crime of careless driving causing death.
Hutchinson (29), a father of one of Robertstown West, Robertstown, Co Kildare, who works in the family window business, had pleaded not guilty to the offence.
The fatal collision occurred while Ms McEvoy (34) a childcare worker from Moyville, Rathfarnham, Co Dublin, was on the return leg of a training cycle to Maynooth with a group of 16 riders from the Orwell Wheelers Cycling Club in Dundrum.
Lawyers for the defendant claimed that he was “forced” to cross over the white line in the middle of the road as he came around a bend to avoid cars parked illegally on his side of the road by mass-goers attending a nearby church.
The defendant’s legal team also pointed out that a forensic report into the collision by gardaí showed that Ms McEvoy was already either falling from her bicycle or lying on the ground by the time she was struck by the accused’s 05-reg Audi A4.
The Garda report indicated that the point of impact between the vehicle and the victim was near the line in the middle of the road.
Several members of the Orwell Wheelers club, who were in the same group as Ms McEvoy, gave evidence that Mr Hutchinson had crossed over a continuous white line at speed onto their side of the road as he came around the bend.
One of the cyclists, Robert Tully, told the court that he was at the front of the group as they approached a bend on the Newtown Road in Rathcoffey
Mr Tully said he had shouted out “f**king wanker” at the driver as he had “cut the corner” and was “over the line.”
Asked by counsel for the Director of Public Prosecutions, Daniel Boland BL, if he had any concern for his own safety, Mr Tully replied: “I was just seconds away. If we had not pulled over, it could have been me.”
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The witness said the speed of the vehicle seemed “excessive” and appeared to accelerate as it came around the bend.
The trial heard that a number of vehicles were parked on the other side of the road before the bend by people attending a nearby church.
Mr Tully agreed with counsel for the defendant, Feargal Kavanagh SC, that cars coming from the other direction would be “forced” to cross the white line due to the parked vehicles, but said “forced” was a bad choice of words.
Asked if the cyclists should have slowed down because of that, he replied: “We don’t drive down the middle of the road.”
He rejected a suggestion by Mr Kavanagh that they could have been cycling up to four abreast at the time because of changes at the front of the group.
The trial heard the cyclists were members of the club’s “orange” group which represented experienced cyclists who had an average speed of 28-30 km/h.
Another cyclist, Evan Hughes, said two-thirds of the car was on the wrong side of the road as it came out of the bend going “dangerously fast” before he heard “an unmerciful sound”. He rejected suggestions by defence counsel that the speed of the car was 20-30 km/h.
Another witness, John Anslow, said the speed of the car as it came towards the group on the bend was “a bit of a shock” and made him “very scared”.
“My mind and body tensed as I expected the car to hit other cars parked on the other side of the road,” he added.
Asked about the parked cars by Mr Kavanagh, Mr Anslow said he did not see them as a potential hazard “if you’re cycling correctly and on your own side of the road”.
He added: “You don’t expect to see a car on your side of the road as there is a continuous white line.”
Another cyclist, Monica Freiband, said she felt “a bit of panic” at the sight of the car as it was going faster than anticipated. She estimated its speed at 60 km/h and felt “a rush of air” as it passed just one to two feet from her.
Another member of the group, Diarmuid Donnelly, said the car had passed him “at arm’s length”. He said: “I felt it was close enough that I could have reached out to it.”
The Court heard when questioned by gardaí, Hutchinson maintained that he had returned to his side of the road before the fatal collision.
The accused’s partner, Jessica Donohoe, who was a passenger in the car, said she had seen “a wobble” among the group of cyclists just before the impact.
After deliberating for just over an hour, the jury returned a unanimous 11-0 verdict that Mr Hutchinson was not guilty of dangerous driving causing death.
Addressing the court, Judge Patrick Quinn said it was a case of “no winners”. Offering his condolences to the victim’s relatives, the Judge noted that Ms McEvoy had enjoyed: “A very good albeit short life… Sadly there is nothing that can bring her back”.
Outside the courthouse, Ms McEvoy’s brother, Brian, expressed disappointment with the verdict, but welcomed the closure that the ending of the trial would bring his family. He said: “I feel we were let down today. I don’t think the injuries my sister sustained justified the outcome.”
Mr McEvoy said: “She sustained substantial injuries. I think careless driving causing death should have been the minimum finding as all the cyclists claimed he was over on their side of the road.”
He added: “The driver was over his side of the line. The obstacles were on his side and it was his job to stop.”
Fighting back tears, his sister, Ciara remarked: “I just feel there’s no justice for Tonya. It’s not fair. We have to live every day with this grief.”
The trial before Judge Patrick Quinn and a jury of seven men and four women took place in Drogheda due to Covid-19 space restrictions in Naas courthouse.