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Learner driver drove her car over cyclist while unaccompanied

By Brion Hoban

A woman has been convicted of causing serious injuries to a cyclist after running her over while driving unaccompanied as a learner driver.

Paulina Galantkiewicz (34) told the trial that she “basically panicked” after realising her car had collided with someone, hit the accelerator instead of the brakes and drove over the cyclist on the ground.

Galantkiewicz of Belmont Park, Raheny, had pleaded not guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to dangerous driving causing serious bodily harm to Thames Aline Taveres (34) at Oak Road, Clondalkin, on June 1, 2018. She has no previous convictions.

On the second day of the trial yesterday the jury returned a verdict of guilty on the sole count after deliberating for an hour and a half.

Judge Martin Nolan thanked jurors for doing their duty. He remanded Galantkiewicz on continuing bail and adjourned the matter for sentencing on October 29, next.

The trial heard that Galantkiewicz had offered a guilty plea to careless driving causing serious bodily injury, but that this plea was not acceptable to the State so she now stood trial on the more serious charge.

During the trial, Galantkiewicz told Dominic McGinn SC, defending, that on the date in question, she had attended a job interview and was driving home afterwards at the time of the incident.

Galantkiewicz said she remembered it was raining and that the weather was “really bad”. She said she was driving slowly as she approached the junction, checked both sides and did not see anybody.

She said she first realised a cyclist was there when she felt something bump her car. She said in that moment she “basically panicked”.

Galantkiewicz said she stopped the car and tried to help after the collision. She said she stayed at the scene until the ambulance arrived and she subsequently agreed to make a statement to gardaí.

She said she felt “horrible” about the accident and that it was something that impacted her life in a different way. She said she never meant to hurt anybody and she is trying to forgive herself for that.

Galantkiewicz agreed with John Byrne BL, prosecuting, that she was a learner driver at the time and knew she had to be accompanied by a fully licensed driver. She agreed someone had been with her when she drove that day to a job interview, but she was alone in the car at the time of the collision.

She agreed that the CCTV footage shows that she did not stop at the stop sign. In a statement made to gardaí, Galantkiewicz said that once she realised she had collided with somebody she “panicked” or was stressed.

She told the trial that instead of hitting the brakes, she hit the accelerator.

She agreed with Mr Byrne that it could be seen on the footage that following the initial “bump”, she accelerated instead of breaking and drove over the complainant on the ground.

Ms Taveres gave evidence during the trial that on the date in question, she had left work and was travelling by bicycle to the gym before intending to return home to celebrate her husband’s birthday.

She said as she was cycling across the junction at Oak Road and Oak Drive in Clondalkin, a car came from her left side and collided with her bike. She said she recalled the encounter being “very quick, very fast” and it was like something was pulling her towards the ground.

Ms Taveres said she was then on the ground and people were around her asking if she was okay, but she did not know how long afterwards that was. She said she was brought to hospital in an ambulance and she remembered thinking her husband’s birthday was not going to be celebrated.

The court heard she suffered extensive injuries and now uses a wheelchair.

In his closing speech to the jury, Mr Byrne said the prosecution case was that the accused woman failed to bring her car to a halt at the junction in compliance with the stop sign and failed to keep a proper lookout, thereby colliding with the bicycle.

Counsel said the prosecution says she should have brought her car to an immediate halt on colliding with the cyclist, but failed to do so. He said that instead of stopping immediately, Galantkiewicz “regrettably” continued to drive over Ms Taveres, thereby causing her serious bodily harm.

In his closing speech, Mr McGinn told jurors they had to look at his client’s driving objectively and decide how bad it was. He said that what his client did wrong was not to notice the cyclist.

Counsel suggested that at its height, the evidence is of momentary inattention or distraction. He said that if a garda had seen this happen and there had not been a collision, there would have been no consequences.

Earlier in the trial, Garda Adrian Corcoran told Mr Byrne that he was a member of the road policing unit and arrived at the scene within an hour of the collision occurring.

Gda Corcoran said he spoke to Galantkiewicz at the scene and she admitted she had been driving the car at the time of the collision. He said she produced a learner permit and subsequently provided proof of insurance to gardaí.

He said he took a breath specimen from the accused woman for the purpose of determining if a person had consumed intoxicants. He said no such substances were detected.

Gda Corcoran said he attended at a hospital and spoke with a doctor who informed him the victim had suffered life-threatening injuries. He said on the following day he again made contact and was told the victim was in a stable but serious conditions.

The garda said a colleague examined the accused woman’s car, concluding that it was in perfect working order and there were no defects that would have contributed to the collision. He said his colleague also examined the victim’s bicycle and came to the same conclusion.

Gda Corcoran said he obtained CCTV footage from nearby cameras which depicted the collision. This footage was played before the jury.

The garda said the footage showed the car approach the junction at Oak Road and Oak Drive where there was a stop sign. He said the footage showed that the car’s brake lights come on, but the car does not stop and continues through the junction.

He said the footage shows the collision taking place and the car coming to a halt immediately afterwards having apparently driven over the victim.

The garda said the footage shows Galantkiewicz immediately going to other drivers who had pulled over and looking for assistance, before then going to the assistance of the victim.

Gda Corcoran agreed with Mr McGinn that he had been involved in road policing for 20 years and had come to numerous scenes where people had been injured or killed.

The garda agreed with counsel that often people drive away following collisions, but that had not occurred in this case. He agreed a vast amount of accidents involved speed, but that there was no element of that in this case.

Gda Corcoran agreed with Mr McGinn that his client passed her driving test shortly after this incident, that she has been driving since and has no penalty points.

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