A drunk and high car enthusiast whose dangerous driving caused the death of his best friend has avoided a prison term for a second time and had his overall suspended sentence reduced – even though the Court of Appeal ruled his original non-custodial sentence had been unduly lenient.
Phelim Coady (24) was in tears and with his head in his hands as he sat beside the body of Stephen Gleeson when gardaí arrived at the scene of the crash in the townland of Garrykennedy, Co Tipperary.
The court heard that Mr Gleeson’s family had urged the trial judge not to jail Coady, an “extraordinarily compassionate approach” which the Court of Appeal said it took into account.
Mr Gleeson (21) had been thrown from the car’s rear window after it hit a bend and careered across a country road before overturning on June 30th, 2019, at 5am.
The three other occupants of the 1995-registered Toyota Starlet, including Coady, were uninjured.
On October 7th, 2020, Judge Patrick Meghan sentenced Coady, of Garrykennedy, Portroe, Nenagh, Co Tipperary, to two years and six months’ imprisonment, which the judge suspended entirely.
Coady had pleaded guilty to dangerous driving causing death, contrary to section 53 (1) of the Road Traffic Act, and driving a dangerously deficient vehicle contrary to sections 54 (1) and (4) of the same act.
Coady – who was also banned from driving for four years – had also admitted to being intoxicated and under the influence of alcohol and cannabis, and driving without insurance, at the time of the offence.
The Director Public Prosecutions (DPP) later appealed the sentence on the grounds it was unduly lenient.
On Thursday, the Court of Appeal ruled that although it agreed with the DPP that the original headline sentence was too low and was quashing the sentence imposed by Judge Meghan, a non-custodial term would be “in the public interest”.
Delivering the judgment, Ms Justice Isobel Kennedy said it had been “a tragic case for all involved”, adding that Coady’s action on the night in question had been “highly reckless” and the consequences had been “devastating”.
She said the court found that the original headline sentence of 2.5 years had been too low, “taking into account the multiplicity of aggravating factors”.
Imposing a new headline sentence of four-and-a-half years, she said Coady was entitled to receive a two-and-half year discount.
The new two-year term, the judge added, would be suspended for three years.
Explaining the decision not to impose a custodial term, Ms Justice Kennedy said testimonials provided to the court described the respondent as a “gentle and well-meaning young man” and these indicated he was a “sensitive and thoughtful person”.
She said Coady was “deeply and genuinely” remorseful, had suffered anguish as a result of causing his friend’s death which was something that would live with him for the rest of his life.
Describing him as a “mentally fragile first-time offender”, Ms Justice Kennedy said the evidence showed that “any period of incarceration would be damaging to the appellant’s mental health and would lessen his ability to once again become a positive contributor to his community and society”.
A visibly emotional Coady declined to comment as he left court.