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Home / News / Suspended sentence for motorist over fatal collision

Suspended sentence for motorist over fatal collision

A woman whose father was killed after he was struck by another motorist while riding his motorbike has asked people to take care on the roads because “accidents don’t happen, they are caused”.

Alan Rice died on 13 April 2021 after Terry Gaff, 56, veered onto the wrong side of the road while coming around a bend on a regional road in Skerries, Co Dublin.

Gaff, of Mourne Park, Skerries, Dublin, pleaded guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to careless driving causing death.

He has no previous convictions and the court heard there were no aggravating features in the case in relation to his driving. He was not speeding, he was not under the influence of alcohol or drugs, his vehicle was in good condition and the driving conditions were good.

Judge Martin Nolan said the collision occurred after “for whatever reason” Gaff allowed his vehicle to cross to the incorrect side of the road, causing the crash and the devastating injuries suffered by Mr Rice.

He said it was a particularly tragic case for Mr Rice’s family and acknowledged that the four victim impact statements before the court were “heartfelt” and demonstrated the devastating loss they are experiencing following the death of their father and husband.

“I hope that over time their pain will ease and life will get better for them,” Judge Nolan said, expressing his condolences to the family.

Judge Nolan said he must assess Gaff’s level of culpability on the day. He said he “drove with a degree of inattention”, did not control his vehicle properly and allowed the car “to wander”.

He said human beings are capable of inattention and noted that most people are guilty of inattention at times, but that in this case that inattention had devastating consequences.

Judge Nolan acknowledged that Gaff had no previous convictions and had a long history of employment as an aircraft engineer in the Air Corps. He said it was “quite unlikely” that Gaff will reoffend in the future before he imposed a six month sentence which he suspended in full.

He also ordered that Gaff pay a fine of €1,000 within six months.

Judge Nolan said he did not think it was necessary to disqualify Gaff from driving, as that will prevent him from working.

Mr Rice’s daughter, Laura, read her victim impact statement into the record. In her closing lines of the statement she asked that motorists remember that “there is a person behind the helmet” and spoke of how motorcyclists are “warm, kind, loving, adventurous and not daredevils”.

She asked drivers to bear in mind that they are effectively “in control of a weapon” and to please take care on the road.

“In Alan’s own words – accidents don’t happen, they are caused,” Ms Rice said.

Sergeant John Cannon told Carol Doherty BL, prosecuting, that Alan Rice was driving his motorcycle from Skerries to Lusk on the R127 at approximately 47 km/hr at 4.30pm that day.

A motorist who was travelling in front of him later told gardaí that as he was driving under the railway bridge, he became aware of a car travelling in the opposite direction that was a bit too close to his own side of the road. Gaff was driving this vehicle.

This motorist manoeuvred his car closer to the ditch but he felt that the other car struck him as he passed.

He pulled in and got out of the car and it was at this point that he saw the motorcyclist on the ground. The driver who had struck his own car had also stopped his own vehicle.

Sgt Cannon confirmed that Mr Rice died as a direct result of the collision with Gaff’s vehicle. He said a friend of Mr Rice, who had been driving his motorbike behind the victim, immediately stopped with him, as did Gaff who offered to help as he was a first aid responder.

Sgt Cannon said Gaff had been travelling north to Skerries in his Hyundai Tucson at 59km/hr and was therefore under the speed limit. He had failed to react to a bend on the road and veered onto the opposite side.

He struck the first vehicle and travelled 15.5 meters on the wrong side of the road before he collided with Mr Rice’s motorbike.

A follow-up report from a forensic collision expert concluded that the main reason for the collision was “lack of steering” and the driver left it “too late to sufficiently react”. He did not adjust his steering for the bend and the expert suggested that this may be due to “distraction or driver fatigue”.

Sgt Cannon agreed with Dominic McGinn SC defending that the road conditions were good that day. It was daylight and it was not wet.

He further acknowledged that there were no aggravating features in terms of alcohol, drugs or a defective car.

Sgt Cannon accepted that Gaff was co-operative, remained at the scene and offered assistance to Mr Rice. He had prepared a letter of apology to the Rice family.

Mr McGinn acknowledged the tragic bereavement the Rice family had suffered.

He asked Judge Nolan to take into account that there were no aggravating factors in the case but that his client failed to negotiate the bend in the road efficiently due to momentary inattention or incompetence in his driving.

Mr McGinn said his client had a solid work record with Air Corps and had 30 years experience as a aircraft engineer. He said he also had expertise as a first responder and offered his services to Mr Rice at the collision.

He asked the judge to consider not disqualifying his client, as he had a good driving record and the loss of his license would impact on his ability to work.

‘Hardest time of my life’

Laura Rice said she learned that her father was dead after someone “veered onto my Dad’s side of the road” adding: “That someone was responsible for my Dad coming home in a box.”

She said grief was a lonely journey and said that time was the “hardest time of my life”.

Ms Rice spoke of how she has since withdrawn from life. She said her father had carried so many of her worries and said he was “almost too involved in my life”.

He had a key to her home and would pop in when she was feeling unwell and he was “an immense help” to her when her marriage broke down.

“We had the same sense of humour,” she continued before she described spending so much time laughing with her father. She said he was always there to help and minded her children while she worked and studied.

She spoke of how he spent so much time with her own children providing them with “lots of fun and most importantly security and love”. He took them sailing, camping, adventures up the mountain, taught them how to drive, how to sail a boat, how to ride a bike, how to be kind and compassionate.

“They were a trio and he loved them dearly. They have become latchkey kids and don’t have the dependable father figure they once had. He was loved so much,” she said.

Ms Rice spoke of how her father “quickly made friends” with people and outlined incidences where he had helped friends who needed help.

“He went out of his way to bring fun to everyone’s life,” Ms Rice continued.

Rosemary Rice, Mr Rice’s wife, said no words could express how the death of her husband has impacted on them and spoke of how he told her he loved her before heading off on his motorbike that day.

“Little did we know that it would be the last time we would see each other after 50 years,” she said, describing Mr Rice as her “life-time love and companion for the future”.

She said she is “adrift and lost, life has lost its meaning”, detailing how they had been together since they were teenagers.

She said life was never dull with her husband and described their fabulous holidays together over the years which they nicknamed “Rice Tours”. She said he was always prepared, all safety measures were adhered to.

She spoke of how proficient Mr Rice was on his motorbike and how he had been awarded a Gold Star in safety. She said she never worried when he went out on his bike because of his “essence of competence and care”.

She said she and her family are now “rudderless and adrift having lost our captain” and spoke of how heartbreaking it was to see her children and grandchildren lost without her husband.

“It is a void I cannot fill,” she said describing how her husband played with them and the fun adventures they had together.

She described the loss as “profound” and said her husband had a “great sense of fun” and said his immense presence and laughter is missed at Christmas and birthdays.

“I miss feeling safe and secure. I miss his great company. I miss our holidays together. I miss our meals together. I miss the sound of his key in the latch. I miss his strong arms around me. I find it difficult to live in world without him. He fixed everything and he fixed us. My life has lost meaning,” she concluded her statement.

Mr Rice’s son described his father’s death as “a pointless loss of life”.

He said he has to put more time into supporting his mother and as he is currently living in Warsaw, which involves a lot of travelling back and forth to Ireland.

He spoke of how his father only got to meet his own daughter once and due to “the reckless actions of one person they will never meet again”.

He said his father would be so proud to see his grand-daughter today, but she will never get the benefit of his unconditional love for her. He said he had “no doubt” that they would have been best friends.

Mr Rice’s younger son also made a victim impact statement that was read into the record.

He said he learned many skills from his father including “patience, his love of the outdoors, camping, fishing”.

He said they had been restoring a boat together but “sadly that was not to be … my heart is not in it now” as he explained that without his father’s guidance he does not think he can complete it.

He said his father’s life was “taken abruptly” and said he wishes he could share another pint with his father.

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