A woman who was convicted last week of dangerous driving causing the deaths of her four year old niece and two year old nephew, has had her sentencing adjourned to the next sitting of Dundalk Circuit Court.
40-year-old Vera Murden of Fatima Court, Dundalk had denied the charge, which arose from a crash at the junction of Maxwell’s Row and the Newry Road Bridge, Dundalk on the 31st of January 2009, when the Hyundai Santa Fe she was driving collided with the building of a former pub.
The jury at Dundalk Circuit Court returned their guilty verdict shortly before 6pm last Wednesday, after just over two hours of deliberations.
That morning the jury was told that a Defence expert who had examined Vera Murden’s Hyundai Santa Fe was unable to give evidence due to illness and it had been agreed that Garda Public Service Vehicle Inspector Sgt. James Walsh would deal with matters that arose from the expert’s report, which primarily related to the 4 x 4’s Engine Control Unit (E.C.U).
The court heard that with the assistance of an auto electrician in County Kerry John O’Sullivan had examined the E-C-Us from two other Santa Fes and had concluded that sometimes faults were recorded and sometimes they were not.
When asked about a photo of the intercooler from Vera Murden’s Santa Fe, Sgt. Walsh said he could see droplets of oil which would make no difference whatsoever and claimed that the concerns raised the day before by another Defence expert Dr. Denis Wood would relate to considerably more oil than the droplets shown.
Sgt. Walsh also said Dr. Wood was incorrect in his opinion that the amount of oil in the intercooler gave rise to concern.
On Tuesday Dr. Wood – a consulting engineer had told the jury he had examined Vera Murden’s Hyundai Santa Fe twice and had calculated that the 4 x 4 had hit the building at between 81 and 110kph.
He said that he had seen oil in the pipes connected to the intercooler and claimed that one of the possible implications of this was that there was a leak of oil with the result of it mixing with air in the engine and acting as a fuel which would result in the acceleration of the engine and the vehicle.
He added the driver could not control the speed using the accelerator and if they put their foot on the clutch it would also cause the engine to race.
The jury heard the engine would be a lot noisier and there would be a light blue grey or white haze from the exhaust that would gradually get darker.
Dr. Wood also said it was well known the phenomenon can happen in diesel vehicles and referred to advice in a manual produced for Volvo truck owners in the U-S.
During his closing speech Prosecutor Jonathan Kilfeather S.C told the jury that by reference to the evidence - as opposed to speculation and conjecture, the State had established that Vera Murden was driving dangerously on the day in question.
He argued that the only eye witness had given evidence of the defendant’s Hyundai Santa Fe passing him at excessive speed, before it made an illegal right turn and crashed.
He added that if there’d been a surge from oil being fed into the engine, there would have been significant smoke - and he said there was no evidence of an engine over-run or that it was revving out of control.
Giollaiosa O’Lideadha Senior Counsel for the Defence told the jury they had to decide whether there was dangerous driving or whether the collision happened because the Santa Fe ran out of control.
He argued that unlike in other cases, there was no evidence of dangerous driving leading up to the crash and suggested there was a high degree of probability that the Santa Fe’s movements were not the deliberate result of Vera Murden’s driving.
He claimed that as it wasn’t possible to safely make the turn at high speed “it just does NOT make sense” that the Santa Fe was driven at that speed deliberately by the accused who he said had no previous convictions or penalty points.
After the unanimous guilty verdict was returned by the jury of eight women and four men Judge Michael O’Shea – at the request of the Defence, adjourned sentencing until the 17th of April and remanded the accused on continuing bail.