A 20-year-old Portarlington man has been jailed for five years and banned from driving for life in what Judge Anthony Kennedy described as "the worst case of dangerous driving causing death that I have ever come across".
Andrew Palmisano, from Kilnacourt, Portarlington, appeared before Tullamore Circuit Court last week charged with dangerous driving causing the deaths of 53-year-old taxi driver Jim Le Blanc, from Mountmellick, and Adam Zygadlo, a Polish national who had just move to Mountmellick. Another Polish passenger in the car was seriously injured in the accident at Garryhinch, Portarlington, on May 11, 2008.
The defendant was also charged with driving under the influence of an intoxicant, in this case cannabis.
Ms Leonie Reynolds, prosecuting, said that the defendant had been driving a BMW towards Mountmellick, accompanied by three passengers, while Mr Le Blanc drove a Toyota towards Portarlington.
The court heard how the defendant's brakes were seriously defective and that he had failed to get them repaired, despite the fact that a local mechanic, Mr Tony Whelan, had warned him that he could not repair his car until the brakes were replaced.
The court was also told how there was a slight collision between the defendant's car and another vehicle, and he then continued, trying to overtake another car, when he collided with Mr Le Blanc's taxi.
Garda Sergeant Elaine Horan said that the defendant gave a blood sample at the hospital in Tullamore and analysis showed it to be cannabis.
She added that Tony Whelan, a mechanic and part-tire fireman, was one of the first on the scene. He recognised the defendant's car as one he had brought to his workshop two weeks earlier.
The defendant had brought it in to have breakpads fitted, but when Mr Whelan put his foot on the brake, there was no response. A number of other defects were also found in the vehicle, and the mechanic did not fix the car, and told the defendant that it was not safe to drive. Palmisano had taken his money back and left.
Sgt Horan said that a technical examination of the vehicles after the accident found that the defendant's was in a dangerous condition, but there were no defects in the other car.
She added that the Zygadlo family were too upset to attend the hearing, and that the injured man had expressed the hope that the defendant would never be let drive again. The court was also told that Mr Zygadlo had been only a week in Ireland, having joined his brother.
The court heard that the defendant lived with his mother and sister. His parents were separated, his father living in the USA, where the defendant was born. Sgt Horan said that Palmisano had previous convictions for dangerous driving, drunk driving and driving without insurance.
She added that the day of the accident was "a beautiful day" and the people in both cars intended going swimming. The road was in good repair. She also said that the defendant had denied the brakes were faulty.
In reply to Mr John Peart, defending, Sergeant Horan said that she would not read a letter the defendant had written to the Le Blanc family, as she felt it would be an "insult" at this late stage.
Mr Peart said that his client had become reclusive. He said that the loss of his father when he was 15 caused many problems for him, and he was asked to leave his school.
Andrew Palmisano apologised to the families of the two deceased men and to the injured man. He accepted that he had brakepads in his boot the day of the accident.
He accepted he should have listened to Mr Whelan. He would not drive now. He would "forever" think of the accident.
Mary Harte, mother of the defendant, said her son was very withdrawn since the accident and was very nervous even when a passenger.
Judge Kennedy said that the defendant was guilty of "criminal negligence" for turning a deaf ear to Mr Whelan's advice on the condition of the car. He had tailgated the car in front and tried to overtake.
Palmisano's criminal record was "appalling" and his first conviction was for dangerous driving. "Bizarrely, he was treated with leniency by being given the Probation Act," said the judge.
The judge continued that the defendant had two drunk driving convictions and also drove without insurance. He had driven uninsured while disqualified. In 2008, he was "on the high road to hell" with a number of motoring convictions, one of them only five weeks before the accident.
Judge Kennedy noted that the Zygadlo family had to pay €5,000 to have the deceased buried in Poland.
He sentenced Palmisano to five years for dangerous driving causing death, and disqualified him from driving for life on that charge. He also imposed a concurrent six month sentence for driving under the influence of an intoxicant, and imposed a two year disqualification on that charge.
A request by Mr Peart for leave to appeal was refused.