27 Jan 2022

Kildare man in series of car crashes while psychotic due to cannabis withdrawal

Suspended sentence imposed at Central Criminal Court

Kildare man in series of car crashes while psychotic

Central Criminal Court

A man who was involved in a series of car crashes while he was in the middle of an episode of psychosis has been given a four-year suspended sentence.

Ali El Taweel (24) had abruptly stopped using cannabis, which it was accepted then led to an episode of psychosis.

Dublin Circuit Criminal Court heard that El Taweel left a car park without paying and got into a series of minor accidents across Dublin city centre, before finally crashing into a truck and a taxi on the south quays.

El Taweel, with an address at Abbey Park View, Clane, Co Kildare, pleaded guilty to two counts of endangerment at locations in Dublin city centre on April 24, 2018.

He also pleaded guilty to driving with no insurance, criminal damage and refusing to provide a specimen of urine or blood, also at locations in Dublin city centre on the same date. He has no previous convictions.

Passing sentence today, Tuesday, December 24, Judge Melanie Greally said El Taweel’s “sequence of driving was prolonged and extremely dangerous and ultimately the inevitable occurred”, referring to the fact that he collided with a taxi which was carrying a female passenger.

The judge noted from a victim impact statement that this taxi driver suffered both physical injuries and his mental health has been affected by the incident.

She said “the background to the commission of the offence had been sent out in a large body of material” including a psychiatric report and “a comprehensive letter from his father”.

The letter stated that El Taweel had developed a dependency to cannabis in the years before the incident and that “a very abrupt withdrawal” from the drug brought on a psychosis.

“He felt in some way he needed to prove himself and did so in a highly distorted and manifestly dangerous manner,” Judge Greally said before she noted that El Taweel has since engaged with mental health services. He is now stable on medication and no longer abuses cannabis.

The judge also accepted that El Taweel has since married and has a young son and a step-child, has completed a law degree and a probation report “has deemed him to be at a low risk of re-offending”.

“If he continues to be compliant with his medication and continues to abstain from use of cannabis, there is no reason to believe there would be a repetition of this kind of behaviour,” Judge Greally said after noting that El Taweel has the full support of both his parents and his wife.

“In normal circumstances the driving involved and the number of people exposed to danger and those who were in fact injured would warrant a custodial sentence,” the judge said but added that there were “very particular considerations at play in this case” which allowed her to impose a suspended term.

She accepted it was “a once off incident” during a time of “severe mental health crisis”, before she imposed concurrent terms of four years in prison which she suspended in full on strict conditions, including that El Taweel remain compliant with his medication. She disqualified him from driving for five years.

Judge Greally acknowledged that El Taweel had €5,000 in court to offer as a token of remorse to the victims and adjourned the case to January 20 next to allow for this issue to be dealt with.

Evidence to the court

Garda Jennifer Keyes told Pieter Le Vert BL, prosecuting, that on the afternoon of the date in question, El Taweel was behaving “somewhat erratically” when speaking to an attendant of a car park in the Stephen's Green area. He asked how much he owed, then said he had no ticket and no money.

Gda Keyes said El Taweel then got into his car and drove out without paying, driving down the wrong way on a one-way street. The attendant went out with a colleague and the accused returned, the attendant jumping out of the way when the accused revved the car and drove at him.

He then drove the wrong way on another nearby street, causing a motorcyclist to swerve out of the way. The car touched off the motorcyclist's calf, but he was uninjured.

The accused's car collided with two other cars at locations in the city centre, damaging both, before knocking off the wing-mirror of a garda patrol car on O'Connell Bridge. The garda car then took up pursuit of El Taweel.

A witness later told gardaí he was walking along the south quays when he saw the accused's car crash first into a truck, then into a taxi before spinning out. The taxi, which contained a driver and a passenger, flew forward and struck a bus.

Both the taxi-driver and his passenger were knocked unconscious as a result of the crash and both sustained injuries. After the crash, El Taweel was observed sitting in his car talking to himself. 

An investigation began, during which it was determined using CCTV that El Taweel had driven through four red lights throughout his offending. He refused to give a sample of either his urine or blood when requested to do so by gardaí.

In interview with gardai a few months later, El Taweel said about a week before the incidents he began having weird dreams and felt as though the world was going to end.

El Taweel told gardaí he did not remember details of the day, but did not dispute the statements of witnesses and identified himself on CCTV footage.

Gda Keyes agreed with Keith Spencer BL, defending, that witnesses she spoke to in the aftermath of the offences spoke of “worrying” behaviours from El Taweel in the lead up to the offences. She agreed his client was due to sit legal exams around the time of the offences.

The garda agreed El Taweel is now married and is a father. She agreed he is in full time employment and has attended treatment for his mental health difficulties. 

Mr Spencer told the court that his client has not used cannabis since the incident.

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