Mother-of-two left off-duty Garda cyclist for dead in ditch

Mother of two Niamh McDonnell left Garda Niall Flood bleeding in a ditch after severing his foot in a drunken hit-and-run. Photo: Brendan Gleeson.

A Limerick mother-of-two left an off-duty Garda Inspector for dead in a ditch after severing his foot when she knocked him down while he was riding his bicycle.

A court heard today that the driver was high on a cocktail of drink and drugs at the time of the devastating incident.

Niamh McDonnell (30) woke up on the morning in question and smoked a cannabis joint before going to work at a crèche in West Limerick.

After finishing work around 2.30pm, McDonnell went to a pub where she consumed five vodkas and five shots of whiskey, liquor, and tequila.

McDonnell, from Gortskagh, Castlemahon, County Limerick, turned down an offer from a friend to drive her home from the pub on June 30 2022.

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Instead of accepting the lift, McDonnell got behind the wheel of her mother-in-law’s Volkswagen Passat, heavily intoxicated.

On her route home she collided with off-duty Garda Inspector Niall Flood (53) from behind, Limerick Circuit Court heard.

Mr Flood, who was cycling on a straight stretch of road, wearing safety clothing and with a flashing light on his bike, was thrown onto the bonnet of the car and into the air before landing chest deep in a foot of water in a ditch.

The popular Garda, based at Newcastle West Garda Station, was left with “life-changing injuries”, the court heard.

Mr Flood’s foot was “ripped off” in the impact and he was left temporarily blind and “bleeding out” in the ditch. He also suffered fractures to his spine, shoulder, and ribs.

McDonnell did not stop after hitting the Garda, and drove home with her windscreen smashed in and with a flat tyre.

The court heard that, when McDonnell got home, her partner discovered the severed foot still wedged into the front of the car and he immediately alerted Gardaí and the emergency services.

A motorist who witnessed the hit-and-run saved Mr Flood’s life by making a tourniquet for his injured leg.

The man, assisted by other locals as well as Mr Flood’s Garda colleagues, pulled him out of the ditch and into a waiting air ambulance which transported him in a critical condition and the severed limb to Cork University Hospital (CUH).

Garda Niall Flood was left with life-changing injuries from the incident. Photo: Brendan Gleeson.

Mr Flood was resuscitated on arrival at CUH’s emergency department, and he spent three months in “excruciating pain” in the hospital’s trauma ward.

Despite the efforts of surgeons, the limb could not be reattached.

Mr Flood spent a further five months in St Ita’s Community Hospital, Newcastle West, and the court heard he continues to struggle with coming to terms with loosing his limb, as well as navigating the world on a wheelchair and using a prosthetic limb.

Witnesses told Gardaí that McDonnell’s car was driving erratically and at speed which McDonnell accepted after Garda could not find any evidence she had ever applied her breaks.

The road, a 1km straight stretch, was dry and there was good visibility at the time.

McDonnell, a mother of two young children, initially lied to Gardaí telling them she had only one drink before driving.

When Gardaí presented her with CCTV footage of her drinking in the pub and bar receipts of the alcohol she had consumed, she admitted drinking the five vodkas and five shots.

McDonnell admitted hitting the Garda from behind and driving home without stopping, telling Gardaí she “panicked”.

The court heard Mr Flood could not attend court as he had suffered a setback in his health due to his injuries.

In his victim statement, Niall Flood said what McDonnell did to him was “unforgivable and incomprehensible”.

“I was struck from the rear by a drunk and drug driver who left me for dead and bleeding out,” he wrote.

He said he had been left with “crushed bones in my spine” and continues to “grieve for my limb knowing I will never get it back”.

Mr Flood’s wife, Margaret Flood, who read her victim impact stament in court, fought back tears, describing how she and her husband had been left “psychologically and physically traumatised” by McDonnell’s “criminal” actions.

“She drove off and left him for dead, that is the cruel nature of the defendant … You would stop if you hit a dog.”

“It has turned our lives upside down,” she said.

“This was no accident, an accident is unintentional, this was a criminal and intentional act.”

McDonnell’s barrister, senior counsel, Brian McInerney, acknowledged that his client’s actions on the day had been “criminal”.

He said McDonnell had suffered from “mental health problems” arising out of “traumatic and horrible experiences throughout her childhood”.

However, Mr McInerney said McDonnell was not the victim, “the only victim here is Niall Flood”.

McDonnell pleaded guilty to dangerous driving causing serious bodily harm to Mr Flood, driving while drunk, failing to stop at the scene, failing to provide assistance at the scene, and driving under the influence of alcohol and drugs.

Judge Tom O’Donnell said he would finalise his sentence on Friday November 24.