An experienced garda feared, for the first time in his career, that he would not return home to his wife and children when he and a colleague were rammed by a jeep while on duty in their patrol car.
His colleague said it was the ‘most frightening day of his life.’
The gardaí’s statements were heard in Kilkenny Circuit Court today (Friday).
Daniel Connors (26), Lurgoe, Killenaule, Co Tipperary, was before the court having pleaded guilty to two charges of endangerment, the unlawful taking of a vehicle, and driving without insurance or a licence.
Events occurred on May 25, 2021. Detective Sergeant Brian Sheeran told the court that the Toyota Hilux had been taken from Pike Street, Killenaule at approximately 4pm. An off-duty garda saw Mr Connors jump over the railing of Killenaule GAA Club and get into the vehicle. When he arrived at work a short time later received a report that it had been stolen.
The vehicle was driven to Mullinahone, then Callan and abandoned in New Ross at about 6pm.
Gardaí Aodhan McHugh and Ger O’Leary were on duty in the Mullinahone area that afternoon, investigating a different matter.
Garda O’Leary, who was driving, had just pulled the patrol car to the side of the road at Pennyfeather, Mullinahone, to make a u-turn when a Toyota Hilux jeep came around the corner at speed. It accelerated towards the garda car, drove directly towards it at speed and hit the driver’s side.
The gardaí believed there would be a second attempt to ram them and got out of the car. Mr Connors drove from the scene at speed, almost hitting Garda O’Leary, which would have caused serious injury.
The court heard the first impact was deliberate, the second near impact was due to Mr Connors being reckless while making his getaway.
Det Sergeant Sheeran said there was damage to the front, right hand bumper of the Hilux. That was believed to be the point of impact with the garda car.
CCTV showed Mr Connors driving the vehicle shortly before it was abandoned in New Ross. The Hilux was unable to be driven away and had to be towed.
The owner of the vehicle had been shocked it was taken. He had left important work items in the jeep, including cattle information and medicines, his phone and cheque book.
Garda Aodhan McHugh’s victim impact statement was read in court. He said: “For a split second I thought it was a stupid, crazy practical joke gone wrong.” But when he saw the way the driver was staring at them he realised it was not a joke.
He saw that Mr Connors was going to ram the garda car again and he felt very scared. ‘I didn’t know if we were going to be dragged out, shot or killed.’
Garda McHugh shouted to his colleague to get out of the car. He said he felt like they were ‘sitting ducks’ because they were near a garden wall and could have been trapped against it.
He got out of the garda car, ran around to the driver’s side of the jeep and pulled his baton to arrest the driver. Mr Connors sped off in the direction of Callan.
Garda McHugh saw Garda O’Leary falling into the ditch, to avoid the jeep. He said he believed it was his colleague’s fitness, agility and speed that saved him.
The garda said he was worried the jeep driver would come back and ram them again, while they were at the scene.
Garda McHugh wrote in his statement that it was the “single most frightening experience” in his 20 year career as a garda.
“If ever there was a day over the course of my career that I thought I would not come back to my wife and children it was May 25, 2021.”
Garda Ger O’Leary, in his victim impact statement, said he saw the Hilux come around the bend at speed and accelerate towards the garda car. His first reaction was to brace for a crash. Mr Connors crashed into the driver’s side and moved the garda car back a metre. Garda O’Leary said he could see Mr Connors was setting up to “drive at speed and ram us again.” His door was partially stuck and he had to force it open.
When he was standing on the road the Hilux went towards Garda O’Leary. At the last moment he launched at the ditch to avoid getting hit. “I remember thinking how lucky I was not to be hit.”
After the incident Garda O’Leary took off his stab vest and leaned against the garda car. Garda McHugh radioed for help. “I thought about what could have happened. I could have been killed on that day.”
Garda O’Leary said he was disoriented and shook up but felt thankful could walk away.
He suffered from whiplash, attended hospital and took time off work.
In his statement, the garda said that for the first two days after the incident he considered if this was a job he wanted to do, if it was worth the danger. That changed as he got messages of support from his colleagues. By the end of the week he wanted to get back to work and proudly wear his uniform. Now he has a heightened sense of danger at work.
“Without doubt it was the most frightening and scary day of my life.”
Det Sgt. Sheeran apprehended Mr Connors two days after the incident. He had been taken from New Ross to hospital in Clonmel, and from there transferred to the Department of Psychiatry in Kilkenny. He was arrested on his release.
Mr Connors was interviewed on a number of occasions. His attitude was “mainly no comment.”
Mr Connors was identified on CCTV in New Ross and other areas. DNA from the vehicle steering controls matched Mr Connors.
The court heard he has been in custody in relation to this matter since May 2021.
He had 56 previous convictions. Most were for road traffic offences, also possession of stolen property, dangerous driving, criminal damage and theft.
Det. Sgt. Sheeran said Mr Connors was given a prison sentence in 2016 for an incident in which he was pursued by gardaí, drove dangerously through several townlands including Moyglass and Laffansbridge in Tipperary, reversed into the pursuing garda car once and attempted to a second time.
Mr Connors’ defence barrister told the court that on May 25 his client was with a number of family members at the Killenaule GAA ground. There was some argument between the family members. CCTV showed he seemed to leave in a temper and stole the vehicle.
He said Mr Connors had no intention to strike Garda O’Leary, it was a reckless act.
Det Sgt. Sheeran said that 'after the first, callous, unprovoked attack on the patrol car he almost recklessly ran over Garda O’Leary'.
Mr Connors is a troubled individual with mental health issues, the barrister said. There had been medical consultations as to whether he was fit to stand trial. He has two children but his relationship broke down when he was serving his last prison sentence.
While serving that sentence Mr Connors’ sister died. When the Hilux was recovered it was close to where she was buried.
The barrister said his client had written a letter apologising to the court and the gardaí. He is very sorry.
Mr Connors has been engaging with a psychologist in prison and attending school. A letter of support from his parents was also handed in to court.
Mr Connors had abused diazepam, cocaine and alcohol. It was a miracle he didn’t kill himself or someone else, the barrister said.
A medical report said Mr Connors had symptoms associated with schizophrenia. The barrister said more recent medical reports indicate Mr Connors is in a much better place.
The barrister asked the court to impose a ‘structured sentence’ to give Mr Connors a light at the end of the tunnel.
Judge Cormac Quinn said to do this he would need a Probation Report and so adjourned sentencing to allow one to be prepared.
Mr Connors was remanded in custody to appear before Kilkenny Circuit Court via video link on May 10.
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