Bellaghy pensioner jailed over ‘horrific’ crash

A former chairman of Magherafelt District Council who caused a “horrific collision” which resulted in a six-year old boy sustaining a severe eye injury has been sent to jail for four months.

Pensioner Patrick McErlean, from Ballymacombs Road in Bellaghy, was warned by police about driving four days before the collision after essentially blacking out behind the wheel and rear-ending another motorist.

Prior to both incidents, the 72-year old had stopped taking medication for epilepsy. Branding the crash in which the young boy was injured as “horrific”, Judge Gordon Kerr QC said it was “fortunate” that both the youngster and his mother were not killed in the collision, which occurred on the Castle Road in Randalstown at 6.45pm on October 30, 2012.

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Antrim Crown Court, sitting in Belfast, heard that four days before the incident, McErlean had collided three times with the rear of another vehicle on the Melmont Road in Sion Mills.

When he was questioned by police, McErlean said he had a medical condition and that he had no recollection of the incident.

He was told by a police officer not to drive until he had spoken with his GP - but despite this warning, McErlean continued to drive and four days later caused the collision in Randalstown.

Saying McErlean had ignored this “clear and unambiguous warning”, Judge Gordon Kerr QC said: “He must have been aware the risk he was taking - a risk that could have led to the death of himself and others and did, in fact, lead to a serious injury to a young child.”

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McErlean, who was driving a Toyota Rav 4 jeep, firstly “thumped” into the back of a car travelling in front of him before overtaking at speeds of up to 80 mph. McErlean continued to drive in the wrong lane, causing a collision with an Astra travelling in the opposite direction.

Defence barrister Brian McCartney QC spoke of the many roles McErlean had played in his life, including being a teacher, a mental health nurse, a farmer and a one-time Chairman of Magherafelt District Council.

Revealing his client was diagnosed with temporal lobe epilepsy in 2009, he said McErlean stopped taking his medication in July 2012 “on the basis he was seizure-free.”

The defence QC also said that since the collision, MrErlean has been “living in limbo” and added: “This is a person who stands before a criminal court at the end of his life in circumstances which are terrifying for him and his family.”

Judge Kerr handed McErlean a 12-month sentence - four months of which will be served in custody, with the remaining eight months spent on supervised licence upon his release.

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