Fines for lorry owner and driver after mum is killed on her way home from concert by loose wheel which crossed carriageway

Shauna McDevittShauna McDevitt
Shauna McDevitt

Shauna McDevitt, who was 47 years old and from Londonderry, died after the accident near Toomebridge on April 10 in 2022.Members of her family were present at Antrim Magistrates’ Court, sitting in Ballymena, as two men from the Republic of Ireland were sentenced in connection with incident.

Mark Ninian Atkinson (55), with an address listed as Dromore Lodge at Rockcorry, had been driving the tanker lorry and he pleaded guilty to charges of using a vehicle in a dangerous condition; using a vehicle which exceeded the maximum permitted weight; and having a defective light.

The lorry owner – Ivor Reilly (49), of Cappry, Ballybofey – pleaded guilty to the same three charges and an extra charge of failing to maintain a vehicle.

A prosecutor said around 11pm a tanker lorry carrying fish guts was travelling on the A6 in the direction of Belfast when there was a wheel-bearing failure causing the nearside wheel and brake drum assembly of the second axle to separate from the tanker.

She added: “The wheel hub and brake drum assembly then moved across the carriageway at speed and into the Toome-bound lanes on the opposite side of the road. At this point a Hyundai Tucson was travelling in the nearside Toome-bound lane of the carriageway.”

The prosecutor said the car was being driven by a man with his partner – Ms McDevitt – sitting in the front passenger seat and their son in the rear alongside the family dog.

The court was told the wheel struck the roof and the windscreen of the vehicle at the front passenger side area causing the roof of the vehicle to collapse inwards and causing a fatal injury to Ms McDevitt.

The prosecutor said the person in the rear was covered in glass and suffered a chest scar and although the driver was not physically injured there was an “emotional impact”.The court heard the lorry had continued on and when spoken to by police Mr Atkinson said he was unaware the wheel had been lost.

The prosecutor said experts said that was “entirely plausible” and his lack of knowledge of the incident at the time was not being challenged.

She said an expert’s report concluded the weight of the lorry was not a contributing factor to the wheel falling off.

The prosecutor said the interpretion of the law was that the charges before the court did not carry driving bans because the wheel-bearing issue could not have been foreseen.

A defence barrister said both defendants wished to convey their deepest sympathies to the McDevitt family circle.

The lawyer said a legal opinion had concluded there was no direct blame from the wheel coming off to the defendants. The barrister said it had been a “freak, tragic, accident”.

He added: “There is genuine remorse from both of these men because a wheel from … (the) tanker somehow had become dislodged and caused this accident”.District Judge Nigel Broderick said it was a “tragic” case and he extended the sympathy of the court to the McDevitt family circle.

He said: “This poor lady was otherwise enjoying a pleasurable night out. She had attended a concert with her son”.

The judge said Ms McDevitt’s partner had taken them to the concert but had not attended it and was driving them home.

Judge Broderick said: “When one drives along these roads one doesn’t expect to encounter the wheel of a large vehicle to cross the central reservation and to come into contact with the vehicle and it is a very tragic accident”.He said the McDevitt family circle had been “very dignified” during their attendances at court during the case.

He said the matter was “thoroughly investigated” by police and prosecutors and consideration was given as to whether any other possible charges like “manslaughter or unlicensed driver causing death” could be brought but the “prosecution concluded the evidence does not exist in order to bring any other charges”.

The judge said the court could only sentence on the charges before the court and although it may be difficult for people to understand “it appears in light of the extensive and in depth investigation, none of the offences for which the defendants have pleaded guilty played any contributing factor to Ms McDevitt’s very sad demise”.

He added: “That may be difficult for the family to understand or comprehend because one always assumes instinctively that when an innocent victim loses their life in such tragic consequences then there should be in theory somebody held responsible.”But it would appear that given the unusual nature of this accident it appears to have been what could be described as a hidden defect.”The judge said: “While I have every sympathy for the family of the deceased I have to bear in mind that the offences for which the defendants have entered pleas of guilty did not provide any causal link to her very sad demise.”

Judge Broderick said the owner of the vehicle “perhaps bears a significant greater degree of responsibility for ensuring that the vehicles he sends out his drivers in are properly maintained and not overweight, etc”.

Reilly was fined £3,500 and Atkinson was fined £1,700.