Buncrana Pier tragedy: Driver was over alcohol limit, inquest told

A Derry man who died along with four other members of his family in one of Ireland's worst drowning tragedies was found to have levels of alcohol in his system that were over the legal limit in the Republic.

Wednesday, 22nd November 2017, 3:40 pm
Updated Tuesday, 12th December 2017, 10:55 am
Sean McGrotty, with his partner Louise holding their baby, four-month-old Rionaghac-Ann, and his sons Mark, 12, (right) and Evan, eight. Sean and his sons died along with his mother-in-law Ruth Daniels, 57, and her 14-year-old daughter Jodie Lee Daniels after their SUV sank after sliding off a pier slipway in Buncrana, Co Donegal.

Sean McGrotty (48) was the driver of the Audi Q7 which slipped off Buncrana Pier into the waters of Lough Swilly on March 20, 2016.

Mr McGrotty died in the tragedy with his sons Mark (12) and Evan (8), his partner’s mother Ruth Daniels and her daughter, Jodie-Lee Tracey (14).

Mr. McGrotty’s baby daughter, Riognach-Ann, was the sole survivor of the tragedy.

Dr. Katrina Dillon, a pathologist, today (Wednesday) told an inquest into the five deaths that the alcohol levels were recorded during toxicology tests conducted as part of the post-mortem examination on Mr McGrotty the day after the tragedy.

She added, however, that it was impossible to say what affect this would have had as alcohol would affect people differently based on various factors.

Dr. Dillon said that, during the post mortem examination, there were fresh injuries found in the form of superficial lacerations above Mr McGrotty’s elbow and the back of the left arm, which were consistent, she said, with contact with glass.

Earlier, the inquiry was told that Mr McGrotty had smashed the driver’s window with his elbow before passing his baby daughter out the window to local man, Davitt Walsh, who had swam out after he and his partner saw the car in the water.

She said that, in her view, Mr. McGrotty’s death was due to drowning.

Dr. Dillon said that, in terms of a toxicological analysis, there was a finding of 159 milligrams of alcohol per decimetre of blood which, she said, “may indicate an element of intoxication at the time of his death.”

She added that a therapeutic level of the tranquiliser Diazepam had also been recorded during the post-mortem.

She clarified, when asked by the Coroner, Dr. Denis McCauley, that the current legal alcohol limit was 50 mlg. per decimetre, this limit having been reduced from 80 mlg/d back in 2011.

Michael Staines, a solicitor representing Donegal County Council, queried Dr Dillon’s use of the term ‘may’ and said that a driver found with 80 to 100 mlg/d would face a one year ban from driving.

Dr. McCauley, however, said he was not comfortable with this type of dialogue and urged that the bereaved relatives present were shown due respect.

Responding to Mr. Staines, Dr Dillon said: “I cannot say what level of impairment that driver had. It depends on numerous factors. You cannot say what affect a specific amount of alcohol has on a person.”

At hearing.