Kilkenny District Court has jailed a man for five months after he was convicted of driving without insurance and while disqualified.
George Cristo, Ocean View House, The Esplanade, Tramore, had contested the charges.
Evidence included CCTV of Mr Cristo abandoning the car he was driving in the car park at McDonalds restaurant and walking away.
Garda John O’Sullivan gave evidence that on June 2, at approximately 9.48pm, he was operating a check point on the road between McDonalds, on the Hebron Road, and the M9 motorway. A black Audi car sped through the check point, failed to stop and continued at speed towards Kilkenny.
Garda O’Sullivan pursued the car but did not get close enough the get the full registration plate. At the first roundabout the car turned right, towards Clara, and into the countryside. The garda continued to drive up this road but could not find the Audi.
Garda O’Sullivan said it made sense to him that the vehicle had turned back to Kilkenny so he did the same, to continue the search.
The gardaí drove back as far as McDonalds, and drove into the car park. There they found a car matching the description of the Audi and with the matching partial number plate details.
Sgt Cormac O’Connell, who was also in the patrol car, went into McDonald and enquired who was the owner of the car. Nobody came forward. He viewed the CCTV of the car park.
While waiting for the sergeant to come out, Garda O’Sullivan saw a black man who was not known to him leave the restaurant with a woman and a baby in a carrycot. They walked across the car park and left the area on foot.
The sergeant came back out and described the people he saw getting out of the Audi car and it matched the people Garda O’Sullivan saw leave the restaurant. The CCTV was shown in court.
The car was seized for not being insured.
The gardaí searched Hebron Road and were made aware someone matching the description of the people they were looking for had left the area in a taxi. The gardaí went along Hebron Road and stopped the only taxi they saw. A family matching the description were in the taxi.
Garda O’Sullivan spoke to George Cristo and informed him he was investigating a dangerous driving incident. He asked Mr Cristo about the car in the McDonalds carpark. Mr Cristo was not happy and told the garda it was not his car and he was not driving. He said: “You can’t do this to me. I am not a slave.”
The garda said Mr Cristo shouted in an aggressive manner and he could smell alcohol from his breath. He said he wasn’t afraid of the gardaí, he was living in Ireland 17 years and he could go where he wanted.
When asked where he came from Mr Cristo said he was at a party. He was not able to explain what house.
Garda O’Sullivan went to the Tramore address given by Mr Cristo. He learned the man’s partner at the time was living there but Mr Cristo was not welcome.
The garda contacted Mr Cristo via a phone number associated with him on the Pulse system, on June 26. Mr Cristo shouted at the garda on the phone. When he was asked to produce his driving licence and insurance at a garda station within ten days Mr Cristo did not answer. He said he was not driving any car and that he was not afraid of the garda. The conversation continued and Mr Cristo told the garda not to ring again and to stop “hassling” him.
Garda O’Sullivan called to the registered address for the vehicle and it appeared to be bogus.
The seized Audi was not claimed and eventually destroyed.
Judge Geraldine Carthy said, after viewing the CCTV footage from outside McDonalds, that it clearly identified Mr Cristo, who was sitting in court, and there was no doubt in her mind he was the same man who got out of the car and who went into McDonalds.
She denied an application from Mr Hogan that the identification evidence was doubtful.
Judge Carthy said she was satisfied to convict Mr Cristo.
Garda O’Sullivan informed the court that the defendant had 57 previous convictions in Ireland and eight in foreign countries. His most recent conviction was at Waterford District Court in 2017, when he was disqualified from driving for four years. This was his fourth conviction for driving without insurance.
Mr Hogan said his client came to Ireland as a refugee from Liberia 20 years ago. He had been conscripted into the Liberian army at a young age and witnessed “things most people wouldn’t even see on TV.” It was hugely traumatic for him and continues to be.
Mr Cristo is currently not working but hopes to start a new job in the near future.
Judge Carthy convicted Mr Cristo and sentenced him to five months in prison and disqualified him from driving for four years.
She said Mr Cristo had “blatantly breached the law of the land” and that he did not deserve a community sanction, he deserved imprisonment.