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‘Shameful and dishonourable’: Man who left father-of-two to die on rural Co Armagh road sentenced

"My son has lost his best friend, his role model and his father – he will never hear his voice again. You will never get big hugs from him, or share life's milestones with him. I hope the person responsible for Michael's death understands the gravity of their actions and the immense harm they've caused, not just to Nathan, but to all the family."

Michael Kirk

A Crossmaglen man, who left the scene of a fatal collision on a rural Co Armagh road, has been spared prison.

Father-of-two Michael Kirk died as a result of a collision involving a car driven by Ciaran Joseph Feeney in the early hours of Sunday, August 23, 2020.

While Feeney, of Dundalk Road, was not charged with causing Mr Kirk’s death, his actions subsequent to the incident were described by His Honour Judge Ramsey KC as “shameful and dishonourable”.

The 38-year-old, who pleaded guilty to two counts of perverting the course of justice, failing to remain at an accident scene and failing to report, also failed to disclose who was in the car with him at the time of the accident, and despite this “not handicapping the investigation”, the judge described it as “the elephant in the room”.

On the Saturday leading up to the tragic incident Mr Kirk was out celebrating in a local bar with his cousin and while his cousin returned home around 10pm, Mr Kirk remained out socialising.

At approximately 5am, the following morning, police were call to the Blayney Road in Crossmaglen. This call to emergency services was made by Martin Feeney – the accused’s father.

Mr Feeney told police he had received a call on his mobile phone telling him to come to the Blaney Road, where there had been some sort of an incident involving his son.

Fire crews attended and a watch commander observed three people in two vehicles at the scene. The watch commander knew Martin Feeney and observed him administering CPR to Mr Kirk as he lay motionless on the road.

A paramedic also treated Mr Feeney for shock while another paramedic examined Mr Kirk and pronounced him dead at 5.22am. Mr Kirk had suffered a significant head injury which proved fatal.

A forensic scientist concluded that there was nothing to indicate that Mr Kirk had been impacted in an upright position prior to the collision with Feeney’s car.

It was not the Crown Prosecution’s case that he was knocked down.

The forensic report suggested that the impact with the car and Mr Kirk was “slight” with the “off side wheel just making contact with the deceased, therefore had the car been slightly further to the left the collision could have been avoided”.

However, “it would have been difficult for the driver to position his car much further to his left without contacting the verge”.

Feeney accepted in interview that he drove his car and collided with Mr Kirk, who was lying on the road, and he accepted he was present at the scene and that he tried to administer CPR.

In the interview, police asked him if he was willing to hand over his phone and car keys to which he replied: “If I can find them.”

Feeney told police that he left the scene and had no contact therefore with the first responders.

When asked for his mobile phone, the accused said he could not locate it and that he had in fact disposed of it and had purchased a replacement phone.

Feeney’s car was located by police in a remote area, about three miles from where Mr Kirk was found on the road. The vehicle had been abandoned in a location some distance from the defendant’s home. The front near tyre on the vehicle was completely shredded.

Feeney, in meetings with the Probation Service, recalled observing something in the road that “everything happened very quickly”.

He recalled that there was very little time between his observation and the impact. He described himself as being in “a state of shock” and how he tried to administer CPR to Mr Kirk.

The probation officer said that “one may be confused as to his logic, that he panicked and left the scene after he informed his father, who attended and dealt with emergency services”.

And in addition, “he did not report the circumstances of the incident either to the police or the ambulance service”.

The probation officer’s view was that his actions “demonstrate a lack of responsibility and accountability” and by leaving the scene of the accident, he showed “a disregard for the safety and wellbeing of others, in particular the deceased”.

The probation report added that “his decision to hide the car…suggests a lack of remorse and a possible desire to avoid facing the consequences of his actions”.

Judge Ramsey said he had received a large number of references for Feeney, from a variety of sources, including clergy, employers, local councillors, all of whom testify “to his good character and work in the community”.

However, it was victim impact statements from Mr Kirk’s son, Jamie, one from Susan O’Hanlon – speaking on behalf of her mother, Angela; and Elaine O’Hare, on behalf of her and Mr Kirk’s 10-year-old son, Nathan that the judge focused on.

Son Jamie, wrote: “My father was a staple in my life. He was supportive towards all my ambitions and goals. He brought laughter, joy, positivity, and he showed me how to be honest and a hardworking man, which I never got to thank him for.

“Ever since then, I’m left to pick up the pieces of my life. I used to be outgoing and positive. After, I was left fearful, angry, unable to express myself. My health has suffered. It is impossible to build a true connection with anybody….I don’t really socialise anymore; I’d rather be alone…every time I have an issue that my dad could help with, I’m left alone to fix it.

“I’ve been through hell. I’ve questioned my existence daily. I’ve had to have my 18th birthday without him, graduated without him, my first drink without him. I’ve had to realise I’m going to have my wedding without him. He’s never going to meet my wife, or my own kids…I’ve been left with pain and sorrow and a life to try and salvage.”

Mr Kirk’s mother, Angela – through her daughter, Susan – described her son as “the life and soul of a family – a family man through and through, who would do anything for anyone”.

The court heard how on August 23, 2020, her “whole world was destroyed”….and “the day Michael died, a piece of her died”.

Michael’s youngest son Nathan’s “life changed forever” the day he died, the child’s mother said.

“Michael was a kind and loving man who meant the world to Nathan,” she added. “They have an incredible bond. He often asks me, ‘When can he see his dad again?’ and it’s heartbreaking to have to explain to him he’s gone forever.

“My son has lost his best friend, his role model and his father – he will never hear his voice again. You will never get big hugs from him, or share life’s milestones with him. I hope the person responsible for Michael’s death understands the gravity of their actions and the immense harm they’ve caused, not just to Nathan, but to all the family.”

In sentencing, Judge Ramsey, said: “It’s [Feeney’s] behaviour after the incident, rather than his behaviour leading up to the incident, that is central to this case, but it is clear that his behaviour at the scene leaves a great deal to be desired, and can best be described as shameful and dishonourable.

“Whether his decision to depart the scene, move and hide the vehicle and dispose of his mobile phone arose out of panic, or guilt, is unclear.

“The prosecution concludes that while the death of the deceased was due to the defendant’s vehicle hitting the deceased as he lay on the road, it is accepted the defendant’s driving was not at fault [but rather] the circumstances of the road, the lighting and position of the deceased lying across the road.

“It’s accepted the defendant may not have seen the deceased in time to avoid a collision and therefore, he is not criminally responsible for causing the death by careless or dangerous driving.

“Now, the other elephant in the room, if I may call it that, is his failure to disclose the identity of the other person, which is regrettable…however, this did not handicap the investigation because the police had his admission he was the driver and had full access to the vehicle in order for [forensic] testing [to be carried out] which was central to the charges brought in this case.”

Judge Ramsey added: “Your behaviour in leaving the scene – and other actions – reflect little credit on you, and can only be regarded as shameful and shocking. They can only have added to the distress of the family in coming to terms with the sudden loss of a loved one.”

Describing it as an exceptional case, Judge Ramsey handed Feeney a two year prison sentence, suspended for three years, for each of the charges of perverting the course of justice.

He was handed three months in prison suspended for two years for each of the failing to report and failing to remain charges, all to run concurrently. He was disqualified from driving for 12 months.

Concluding, Judge Ramsey, said: “Now, I appreciate that the outcome of this case may bring little comfort to the family and friends of the deceased, Michael Kirk, but hopefully it will represent a degree of closure and assist in the grieving process.”

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