A Longford motor racing enthusiast who was convicted of dangerous driving causing serious bodily harm after he left a man with "catastrophic brain injuries" has lost an appeal against the severity of his five-year jail sentence.
The Court of Appeal found that the sentence imposed on Aaron Cassidy was "generous" and that his appeal was "utterly lacking in merit" and "bordering on unstatable".
Delivering the judgement this week, president of the Court of Appeal Mr Justice George Birmingham said the sentence imposed was "a very lenient one" and he and the other two judges of the three-judge court would have been more severe.
He decided, however, not to increase the sentence because it fell within the available range for the offence. Cassidy decided to go ahead with his appeal even though his lawyers advised him that the court could increase his sentence.
Aaron Cassidy of Cranleymore, Edgeworthstown, Co Longford was jailed by Longford Circuit Criminal Court in June 2020 for dangerous driving causing serious bodily harm to a pedestrian, Stephen Roche, on Main Street, Edgeworthstown on September 10, 2017.
Cassidy was also disqualified from driving for 10 years. Mr Justice Birmingham said the disqualification was reasonable given that it is "beyond doubt he is not a fit person to hold a driving licence."
The 29-year-old welder and motor racing enthusiast also pleaded guilty to a charge of failing to report an accident to gardaí after he fled the scene and abandoned his van, which was never subsequently found, in a bog.
At one stage, he claimed he had sold it to a Nigerian male but later admitted that was a lie.
Mr Justice Birmingham, having heard of the life changing injuries suffered by Mr Roche, said the sentencing judge was "entirely correct to place the offence near the highest end of the spectrum." Having set a headline sentence of eight years and six months, Justice Birmingham noted that the judge had reduced that to six years after considering mitigating factors and then further suspended a period of 12 months. This was "generous", he said. "and could not in any circumstances be considered anything other than lenient."
Counsel for Cassidy, Kevin Fogarty SC, had previously argued that the appellant was not driving fast at the time of the collision with a forensic report estimating the vehicle was travelling at 14 km/h at the time.
Although the sentencing judge, Judge Keenan Johnson, had treated the fact that Cassidy had travelled to Britain shortly after the incident as another aggravating factor, Mr Forgarty said there was no evidence that he was trying to evade arrest or that he knew he was wanted for questioning by gardaí.
Mr Fogarty said Cassidy returned to Ireland as soon as he became aware that he was being sought by gardaí.
Opposing the appeal, counsel for the DPP, Shane Geraghty BL, said the gravity of the offence should be measured by the harm done which was “significant” in the case. The court heard that Cassidy’s victim, a married father of two, had suffered catastrophic brain injuries and had lost his job as a result of disabilities resulting from the incident.
Mr Geraghty said Mr Roche suffered ongoing health problems including dizziness, blurred vision as well as difficulties with reading and writing.
He said the victim also had shakes in his hand and pains in his leg while he would be on anti-epilepsy medicine for the rest of his life.
Mr Geraghty described what happened as “a very serious offence” which had required life-saving intervention.
Cassidy had been heavily under the influence of alcohol at the time of the incident and had also taken cocaine.
He drove his Ford Transit van in a circle around Mr Roche and another man and on the second circle, he drove at Mr Roche without braking or changing direction and knocked him over.
Mr Geraghty said Cassidy’s behaviour was “deplorable” as there was evidence he had accelerated at the time of the collision and it was irrelevant “whether he was doing five or 50 miles per hour”.
The DPP argued the sentencing judge had exercised his discretion reasonably and the sentence was not unduly severe in the circumstances,
The president of the Court of Appeal, Mr Justice George Birmingham, presiding with Ms Justice Isobel Kennedy and Mr Justice Patrick McCarthy, observed that Mr Roche had been in a coma for 16 days and the reaction of the appellant was to claim the victim had exaggerated his injuries.
Mr Justice Birmingham remarked that the reduction from the headline sentence of eight and a half years to six years appeared “generous.”
CCTV footage of the incident, which had been captured on camera, was not available to be shown in court due to technical problems.
Mr Fogarty claimed it would have shown that the van was not driven directly at the victim but was “deliberately designed to go close but not to actually come in contact” with Mr Roche.
At the start of the hearing, Mr Fogarty said his client had issued clear instructions to go ahead with his appeal, although he had been advised explicitly that the Court of Appeal could also increase his term of imprisonment.