hit and run

Longford pair jailed for ‘terrifying’ hit and run incident

Three people have been sentenced in connection with what Judge Keenan Johnson has called “the worst case of dangerous driving I have ever dealt with”.

Joe Lawrence, 38 Lana Aoibheann, Longford, and Patrick Lawrence, 39 Great Water Street, Longford, both appeared before Longford Circuit Court charged in connection to a violent hit and run in April 2019, which left Kevin Stokes confined to a wheelchair.

Rebecca Lawrence, also of 39 Great Water Street, was also sentenced for falsely reporting her husband’s car as stolen, with the intent to impede the apprehension of an offender who has committed an arrestable offence.

At a lengthy hearing, the court heard that, on April 30, 2019, at approximately 4.15pm, Kevin Stokes Senior, Kevin Stokes Junior, Chantelle, Dylan and Margaret Stokes and Jane Ward were walking across the Annaly Carpark behind Longford Courthouse following an appearance at Longford Circuit Court.

Evidence was given that Joe and Patrick Lawrence were aware that the Stokes family were in the vicinity and drove to the carpark where they lay in wait for them.

Detective Sergeant Keelin Brennan gave evidence to the court that a 999 call was made by a solicitor who was leaving court at 4.15pm following the occurrence of an incident at the carpark.

The court heard how, as the Stokes family were walking across the car park, a VW Passat and a red Chevrolet, driven by Joe and Patrick Lawrence respectively, were driven at high speed into the Stokes family, causing serious injury to Kevin Stokes Snr, Kevin Stokes Jnr and Chantelle Stokes.

“It seems clear that the actions were coordinated between the two accused and involved a deliberate and concerted effort to cause serious injury to members of the Stokes family,” said Judge Keenan Johnson when passing judgement last Friday afternoon.

“While there is some discrepency between the description of events by the different state witnesses, there is little doubt that both Patrick Lawrence and Joseph Lawrence are equally culpable for what happened.

“It is clear that both of them drove their cars, in an extremely reckless and dangerous manner, at the Stokes family with the intent of causing serious injury to them. Indeed, it could be said that it is fortunate that none of the Stokes family sustained fatal injuries given the gravity of the offending and the fact that it involved the use of cars as weapons of offence.

“I think it is safe to say that cars, when driven dangerously at pedestrians, as in this case, are nothing short of lethal weapons.”

The cars were driven at the Stokes family on at least three occasions with Kevin Stokes Snr being hit for a second time while lying injured on the ground.

Both Kevin Stokes Jnr and Chantell Stokes were injured while they tried to drag their father out of the way of the oncoming vehicles.

“The entire incident had to be a terrifying experience, not only for the victims, but for their family members who were present and for innocent bystanders,” said Judge Johnson.

A forensic examination of the scene disclosed significant evidence of speed as the offending vehicles left a large selection of tyre marks on the surface of the carpark.

Similarly, examination of the two offending vehicles, and a Land Rover Discovery which was parked nearby showed blood splatter on the Chevrolet and the Land Rover. The Chevrolet also had damage to the front wing and windscreen on the driver’s side, while the jeep had a dent in the side where Chantelle Stokes hit it when she was knocked down.

Rebecca Lawrence, at 4.19pm made a call to Gardaí in the immediate aftermath of the incident, reporting her husband’s red Chevrolet as missing, along with €100 cash and cheques for her brother which were inside the vehicle.

“It seems clear that these actions were undertaken by Rebecca Lawrence in order to provide an alibi for her husband and to exonerate him from any responsibility in respect of the index offences,” said Judge Johnson.

“It is clear from the evidence that the phone calls made by Rebecca Lawrence were made at the behest and urgings of her husband. Clearly by these actions she impeded the apprehension and prosecution of Patrick Lawrence, her husband.”
Patrick and Joe Lawrence were identified by the victims and all three accused were ultimately arrested and interviewed by Gardaí.

All three lied about their involvement in the offending, the court heard, but a thorough Garda investigation and the harvesting of significant amounts of CCTV footage exposed the denials by all three of their involvement in the incident to be untrue.

A medical report in respect of Kevin Stokes Snr indicated that he sustained very significant disabling injuries to his right shoulder, lower back, bilateral hips and right ankle as well as multiple lacerations.

The report also indicated that the injuries have caused significant limitations in Mr Stokes’ life and the likelihood of a full recovery is not expected in the long term.

In a victim impact statement written by Kevin Stokes Snr, he outlined how he is now dependent on others to undertake daily tasks for him, with small tasks that were once taken for granted now being major issues for him.

“I will never forget the screams of my children when he hit me,” Mr Stokes said in a victim impact statement read in court by his daughter, Lucy McDermott.

“No parent should have to choose whether they should get hit or I should. I had to make that choice. I begged God to leave my life and save my children.”

He went on to say that he has missed out on significant family occasions, such as weddings and funerals, where his inability to stand has resulted in him being unable to act as a pallbearer to his late mother or to walk his daughters up the aisle on their wedding days.

He also stated that, not only did he lose his ability to walk, but also his independence and his masculinity and now needs to be lifted into the bath and helped to go to the toilet.

“Rather disturbingly, he indicates that he has been the subject of online bullying since the offence,” said Judge Johnson.

“It has to be said that anybody who engages in such despicable behaviour should hang their heads in shame. It is absolutely outrageous for faceless keyboard warriors to sully the reputation of anybody online.”

A medical report in respect of Kevin Stokes Jnr stated that he sustained an injury to his face and lower limbs, with multiple glass pieces embedded in his face.

In his victim impact statement, he outlined how he thought he was going to die and is now conscious of the scars on his face and feels that people are looking at them when talking to him, resulting in a significant lowering of his confidence.

Chantelle Stokes, in her victim impact statement, told the court how she heard her father shout “run, run, save yourself” before he was hit by the first car.

“I felt powerless, like I had no control over my own body,” she said of the “horrific day”.

“If I only had one wish in life, it would be that I didn’t get so frightened and freeze. For the rest of my life, I’ll live with that regret.”

Ms Stokes also suffers from depression and has regular nightmares. Any sound of a car can trigger a panic attack.

“She seems to be blaming herself for not being able to offer more assistance to her father on the date in question,” said Judge Johnson.

“It seems clear that Ms Stokes could have done nothing and that no blame attaches to her for what happened to her father or her brother.

“Clearly the charges against each of the accused are extremely serious. It is hard to believe people would use their cars in such a lethal, dangerous and evil way. It is without doubt the worst case of dangerous driving that I have ever dealt with.

“It seems to be a case that the Lawrences decided to act as judge, jury and executioner in respect of offences of which they were the victims and which they believed to have been perpetrated by the Stokes,” he continued, referring to a number of incidents where vehicles belonging to the Lawrences were subject to arson attacks.

“This type of vigilantism and taking of the law into one’s own hands cannot be tolerated in any civilised society.”

Judge Johnson proceeded to sentence Joe and Patrick Lawrence to ten years in prison, with the final two years suspended for a period of five years subject to a number of conditions. Both were disqualified from driving for a period of ten years.

Rebecca Lawrence was sentenced to two years in prison with the sentence suspended in full for a period of five years on the condition that she enter into a bond of €500 to keep the peace and be of good behaviour, that she engage in any traveller mediation sessions that are established to bring feuding to an end and that she submit herself to supervision by the probation service for a period of 12 months.

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First published in the Irish Examiner

Written by Jessica Thompson