Ballycastle man jailed for killing nephew after crashing van while drunk

Credit: Colm Lenaghan
Paul McAlonan (left) and his nephew Sean who was tragically killed when the stolen van his uncle was driving crashed into a tree and caught fire. Credit: Colm Lenaghan

A Ballycastle man who killed his nephew when he crashed a stolen van while drunk has been handed a 14-month sentence.

Paul McAlonan, a father-of-three from Hillside Road in Ballycastle, was also given a two-year driving ban.

Judge Alistair Devlin said he had read the “heartfelt and frankly very gracious” victim impact statement from Sean McAlonan’s grieving mother where she said she did not wish to see her brother McAlonan jailed.

But the judge told Antrim Crown Court that, given the aggravating features, a prison sentence was inevitable.

Ordering 39-year-old McAlonan to serve half his sentence in jail and half under supervised licence conditions, the Antrim Crown Court judge said there had to be a prison sentence “to mark society’s abhorrence and rejection” of drink driving.

He also said it was necessary to “deter this who may in the future…drive with excess alcohol, putting the lives of other road users and themselves at significant risk.” 

In addition to the prison sentence McAlonan was also banned from driving for two years after he entered guilty pleas to causing the death of Sean by driving carelessly and with excess alcohol as well as a charge of aggravated vehicle theft causing death.

Standing alongside him in the dock was 30-year-old Kieran Kane, from the Cushendall Road, Ballypatrick, Ballycastle. 

He was handed a three-year probation order after he admitted allowing himself to be driven in the stolen Citroen Berlingo van.

The court heard that on 25 November 2018 the uncle and nephew had been at a wedding but ended up at Hunters Bar in Ballyvoy. 

Despite drinking alcohol for the majority of the day McAlonan, who looked upon his 21-year-old nephew Sean “more like a son”, found the unlocked Citroen van in the pub car park and with the key left in the glove box, decided to drive home at 6am. 

Kane, who had not been with the McAlonans but apparently knew them and was friends with Sean, jumped into the back of the van to get a lift home. 

According to an agreed basis of plea, McAlonan was not speeding or driving erratically as he drove to town along the Glenshesk Road but six miles outside the the town centre, the stolen van left the road and crashed into a mature tree. 

Kane, who was in the cargo part at the rear of the van, was thrown forward and out through the passenger window while McAlonan sustained fractures to his left leg and ribs and was dragged from the crashed van by two passers-by. 

Tragically, Sean sustained fatal injuries and the van caught fire a short time after impact. 

McAlonan's blood sample was taken at hospital three and a half hours after the fatal impact and even then, he was found to be one and a half times the legal drink drive limit. 

Prosecuting KC John Orr said while he accepted there were mitigating features such as McAlonan’s clear record, good driving record, guilty plea and “genuine shock and remorse,” there were also aggravating features in that he had taken the van without permission and was drunk at the time. 

McAlonan’s defence KC Eilish McDermott said the defendant “is the lynch pin” of the family in that he was heavily involved in the family’s three businesses - a haulage firm, heating oil delivery and a filling station. 

She revealed that Sean’s mum works in the filling station and further that when he was first born, Sean and his mum lived with the defendant for a time. 

“They were very close, to the extent that it’s accepted by all concerned that the deceased regarded the defendant as a father figure and he was mentoring him to follow in his footsteps in the haulage business,” said Ms McDermott, adding that the defendant is “riven with remorse.”

She told the judge it had been the “fervent wish of the deceased’s mother that the defendant was not prosecuted."

She had written how “I know that Sean would not want Paul Martin to be more punished for what happened than he already has and will for the rest of his life.”

Ms McDermott conceded that while it’s in the public interest to prosecute drink driving cases and such an activity “must be deterred…it’s rare that the court will come across a case where the tragedy of the fatal accident will be felt more keenly by the defendant and indeed his family for the rest of their lives.”

Jailing McAlonan however, Judge Devlin said the guidelines and authorities were clear in that “whoever drives with excess alcohol does so at his or her peril” because where death or serious injury occurs, “a prison sentence will ordinarily be appropriate.”

Turning to Kane, the judge said while his offence was clearly less culpable “this court seriously considered a custodial sentence, albeit suspended.”

Imposing a three-year probation order instead, Judge Devlin said he had “some concerns” because despite what happened to his friend, Kane saw no problem with going out at the weekend, consuming 33 units of alcohol, often on a single night, but having no plan in place to get home from rural pubs. 

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