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'Lifetime of grief': Drink driver sentenced for killing 'deeply loved' Irish pedestrian

Georgina Campbell,
Publish Date
Thu, 21 Mar 2024, 3:27PM

'Lifetime of grief': Drink driver sentenced for killing 'deeply loved' Irish pedestrian

Georgina Campbell,
Publish Date
Thu, 21 Mar 2024, 3:27PM

Emotional friends and family of an Irish national killed by a drunk driver in Wellington say they have been left with a lifetime of grief for a man who was deeply loved.

Declan Curley, 37, was struck and killed on Dixon St in the early hours of the morning on February 12, 2022.

His life was cut short just as he was making plans to return to Ireland with his partner Sam and her daughter who called him “daddy”.

Curley’s father Tommy died suddenly at the end of last year before justice could be served. His family said he died of a broken heart.

Drink driver Callum Wither was sentenced to 12 months home detention today after earlier pleading guilty to charges of dangerous driving causing death and driving with excess breath alcohol.

Judge Noel Sainsbury handed down the sentence in the Wellington District Court.

Wither has also been disqualified from driving for three years and must undertake relevant counselling and other programmes.

Wither, who was 21 at the time of the incident, had been out drinking with friends when his path collided with Curley’s in the worst possible way.

Those with Wither told him not to drive. One of them was so concerned that they asked him for his keys.

Regardless, Wither decided to get behind the wheel. As he travelled along Dixon St, a busy area for nightlife and pedestrian traffic, his speed sat around 56km/h. The limit was 30km/h.

As Curley crossed the road, Wither was unable to stop in time. He hit him with his vehicle and Curley died at the scene.

The public gallery was full of Curley’s friends and family for today’s sentencing. There were so many people that some had to watch proceedings via a video link from another room.

Those who read victim impact statements were bewildered by Wither’s willingness to put others at risk by driving drunk a second time just two months after Curley was killed.

A police breath test revealed he was again twice the legal limit with a reading of 529 micrograms per litre of breath. He told police he was driving to drop his friends home in Newtown.

Sainsbury acknowledged Curley’s friends and family would be disappointed with anything short of a prison sentence.

However, Sainsbury had to weigh that against the risk to the community of Wither not getting the help he needed in prison.

Sainsbury took into account Wither’s guilty plea while also acknowledging it came some 18 months after the incident, that he had no prior history, and that Wither had come to accept the terrible pain he had caused with the help of counselling.

A friend of Curley’s told the court he was a true gentleman who would light up the room with his distinctive character and charm.

“He was an incredibly family-orientated friend and loved all of his friends near and far.

“Declan had a lot more to give to this world. It is no exaggeration that everybody was fond of Declan.”

She said the loss of Curley has brought a lifetime of grief.

A cousin spoke on behalf of the family and told the court about the pain Curley’s parents had felt as they packed up his childhood toys which they hoped a grandchild would one day play with.

He said Curley’s father Tommy could not pick up his guitar and sing, which was something he had always done.

Another friend said he struggled every day to accept that Curley was gone.

“He was an only child but a brother to so many people including myself. He was deeply loved.”

Friends and family would not forgive Wither, he said.

Wither read an apology to the court that he had written for Curley’s parents.

He said he didn’t think he would ever come to terms with the fact he had taken such a good person from this world.

“Every day I am reminded about how my ignorance led to the loss of Declan.”

Wither said he now understood how precious life was and he was striving to be a better person.

“Nothing I say can ever ease the pain I have caused you and I know that”, he said.

“I will never treat life as if it’s not precious again.”

Georgina Campbell is a Wellington-based reporter who has a particular interest in local government, transport, and seismic issues. She joined the Herald in 2019 after working as a broadcast journalist.

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