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Man who ran red light and caused death of retired couple on Portadown’s Northway jailed

Sylvia and John McKee
Sylvia and John McKee

A driver who ran a red light causing the death of an elderly couple who met on a blind date more than half a century ago has been jailed.

Andrew McGarrity was handed sentences totalling 18 months for causing the deaths of John and Sylvia McKee.

Craigavon Crown Court heard how he ploughed through a red light and into the side of their car

Ordering the 58-year-old to serve half the sentence in jail and half on licence, Judge Patrick Lynch KC said the manner of McGarrity’s driving “barely falls short of dangerous driving”.

Highlighting that the traffic lights turned red when McGarrity was 135 metres away — “That’s a minimum of one and a half football pitches” — Judge Lynch said “it’s as bad a case of careless driving that this court has seen”.

Imposing a 15-month sentence for causing the deaths of Mr and Mrs McKee, Judge Lynch said that McGarrity’s actions in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy indicated he was fully aware that he had run a red light.

McGarrity compounded the tragedy by trying to cover his tracks by destroying the memory card from his dashcam, which, the judge said, had added on unnecessary court time, delay, expense and, most importantly, pain and distress for the families and friends of the “much beloved couple”.

Judge Lynch told McGarrity that, “as an act of mercy”, he would only add on three months to the 15 months for the driving offences, but he ordered the sentences to be served consecutively.

At the end of McGarrity’s trial last November, the jury deliberated for half an hour before returning with unanimous verdicts convicting him of causing the McKees’ deaths by careless driving.

McGarrity, from Loughview, Gawley’s Gate in Aghagallon, was also convicted of perverting the course of justice in the aftermath of the tragedy in that he destroyed the SD memory card of his dashcam, “smashing the card into pieces”, before hurling the camera itself into the bushes “as far as he could”.

The couple, who fell in love after a blind date in 1970 and who had three children, seven grandchildren and four great-grandchildren, sustained fatal injuries when their black Peugeot 108 and McGarrity’s silver Honda Accord were in a collision on Northway in Portadown on August 4, 2019.

The jury heard that, tragically, Mrs McKee (72) passed away at the scene, while her husband of 35 years, John (74), succumbed to his injuries just over a week later.

Judge Lynch recounted how Mr McKee was driving and he was in the process of turning right on to the Seagoe Road when McGarrity failed to stop at a red light, ploughing into the passenger side of the Peugeot.

He said that even though Mr McKee “was not in the dedicated lane for turning right… that was incidental” because McGarrity was responsible for the fatal crash by failing to stop at the red light.

Witnesses had told the jury Mr McKee only began his manoeuvre when there was a filter light allowing him to turn right, while the lights controlling McGarrity’s approach had not just changed but was a “solid red”.

An expert crash site engineer testified that he had studied the scene and the pattern of the lights and it followed that if Mr McKee had a green light, that “dictated” that McGarrity’s approach would have had a red light.

Giving evidence on his own behalf, McGarrity repeated the claims he made during initial police interviews, maintaining that when he approached the junction his light had been green and when he saw the black Peugeot in front of him, he “stood on the brakes” but couldn’t avoid a collision.

He further claimed he had gotten rid of the dashcam because a friend had told him that “if the police get their hands on it they will do you for whatever transgression that they might find on it”.

While McGarrity told police “it was their [the McKees’] fault — they pulled out in front of me”, the jury, by their verdicts, clearly rejected his claims.

On Friday Judge Lynch said McGarrity maintains his innocence and seeks to shift blame to the entirely innocent Mr McKee.

He added, however, that that “is possibly a self-defence mechanism as he tried to come to terms with the fact that his driving caused the loss of two people’s lives”.

McGarrity was also banned from driving for a year.

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