Dr Susan Lawlor has told The Kerryman that those who loved her brother – Dr Martin Lawlor, one of the top psychiatric consultants in Britain and Ireland – must forever live with the tragic irony that a man who devoted himself to helping the most vulnerable was himself left to die on the side of a road.
enis McSweeney (75) of Pouladuff Road, Ballyphehane, Cork, was jailed last week for four years after driving away on December 15, 2018, from the scene on the Airport Road in Cork, where his car struck the late Tralee native, a father of three.
Speaking two days after judge Seán Ó Donnabháin sentenced Mr McSweeney, a taxi driver at the time of the incident, to five years in prison with the final year suspended, Susan said she found it incredibly difficult to process the details that emerged at Cork Circuit Criminal Court. She has since chosen to speak out to instil in people the importance of staying at the scene of a road traffic collision.
“I lost my breath for a moment in court, and I woke up today and it hit me,” she said. “You keep trucking along and think you’re doing okay, and then you realise that this is our reality and the healing process begins now.
“It was so shocking, in particular that he knew he hit Martin and chose to drive away. He never stopped the car, he went and picked up another fare and dropped them to their location. And for whatever reason, he doubled back to the scene and was spotted by gardaí. Then he said he’d hit an animal after they asked him about the damage to his car.
“He took any piece of hope from us…It’s unforgivable. He made several choices that night. He made them consciously, and as a result my brother was left at the side of the road alone. I have no words to describe the lack of respect he showed for human life.”
Judge Ó Donnabháin rejected Mr McSweeney’s explanation that he had ‘panicked’ in leaving the scene and described his actions as callous.
He acknowledged Mr McSweeney’s guilty plea to failing to stop his vehicle after the incident; failing to keep his vehicle at the scene; failing to report the incident to gardaí and failing to give appropriate information to gardaí.
He also noted his remorse, lack of previous convictions, and voluntary surrender of his driving licence, but he felt the seriousness of the offence and the pain it caused to Martin Lawlor’s loved ones merited a custodial sentence.
“It’s this deep grief that rips your heart from your chest,” Susan said. “It’s the lack of respect that he [Mr McSweeney] had for my brother and his family. This was a man who devoted his life to saving the most vulnerable people. He treated people who really needed help, in a voluntary capacity and also through his work. That’s what makes this so hard to comprehend.
“There’s no closure. Me, my parents, my brothers, his wife, his children – who were 12, 14 and 18 – have to live with the reality that my lovely brother was left on the side of a road.”
Susan described how her brother had since missed several milestones in his children’s lives and that every Christmas since his death has been a blur. She also spoke of the goals she and Martin had in their capacity as work colleagues and of the moment she learned that he had died.
“We founded the State of Mind Ireland charity together. We collaborated for over a decade. He was a phenomenal human being. I don’t want him to be remembered as a statistic, a road-accident figure, a countless number on a page. He was a human being, born to help people, he saved lives on a daily basis. He went above and beyond what was ever asked of him. He had such a respect for life, he was at the peak of his own career and life.
“I can’t even comprehend what my brother, Dr John Lawlor, went through to hear what had happened, and then he had to break the news. Helen [Martin’s wife] even noted that there were no words that could describe the impact it has had on her and her children.
“It was as if my world imploded. I couldn’t catch my breath. My mother was on the phone, screaming in grief that her baby was dead, Martin, but it didn’t register. I rang John and asked what had happened, and he said, ‘I’m so sorry, Martin is dead’. He told me that our brother was killed and left on the side of the road.
“To think that you’d leave any living entity at the side of the road. You wouldn’t do it to an animal, never mind my lovely brother.”
Susan said that Martin’s loved ones would not have been able to avoid the pain of losing him but would have approached the matter differently had Mr McSweeney “stood up and been accountable” rather than leaving the family to put the pieces together themselves.
She said it is imperative that people realise how actions such as his compound the grief families who lose loved ones go through following road traffic collisions.
She added that she feels Martin continues to drive her forward to achieve the goals that both had set out prior to his tragic death in late 2018.
“It feels like I’ve been embodied by his dreams and passion for mental health, combined with my own,” she said. “It’s like a fire has been lit in me. It drives me forward. There are so many people in our community that are living with an array of mental-health problems.”
She recently launched a new range of psychotherapy, psychiatry, and psychological mental-health services in Cork and Kerry and divides her week up between clinics in both counties, providing adult and child counselling, psychotherapy, psychological, and psychiatric services. She has also collaborated with Mary Lucey at Careers Ahead to offer educational and careers advice alongside mental-health and workplace well-being counselling to second- and third-level students, their parents, and job-seekers. She said that all of this fits in with the goals she and Martin had set themselves many years ago.
“I am contactable for anyone who needs my help at (085) 736 0994 and through e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org,” she added.