A Co. Antrim man was handed an interim driving ban on Wednesday after he was convicted of causing the deaths of a retired couple after he ran a red light.
The Craigavon Crown Court jury deliberated for half an hour before returning with unanimous verdicts convicting 58-year-old Andrew McGarrity of causing the deaths of John and Sylvia McKee 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 dash cam, “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 collision on Northway in Portadown on August 4, 2019.
The jury heard that tragically, 72-year-old Mrs McKee passed away at the scene while her husband of 35 years, John (74), succumbed to his injuries just over a week later.
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 little Peugeot car.
The jury heard that even though Mr McKee “was not in the dedicated lane for turning right…that makes absolutely no difference” because it was the PPS case that McGarrity “failed 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.
He further testified there was “at least five seconds” between McGarrity’s light turning red and Mr McKee getting a green light.
The jury also heard evidence that in the immediate aftermath of the fatal RTC, McGarrity had asked police officers whether the traffic lights had cameras.
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 he couldn’t avoid a collision.
He further claimed he had gotten rid of the dash cam 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 fault – they pulled out in front of me,” by their verdicts the jury clearly rejected his claims.
Following the unanimous verdicts, trial Judge Patrick Lynch KC thanked the jury for their service and freeing McGarrity on bail, he said he would pass sentence on January 16.
In the meantime, he ordered a pre-sentence probation report to be compiled as well as victim impact statements to be lodged and imposed an interim driving ban on McGarrity.