Inishowen crash deaths inquest: Families “want to hear the full story.”

Buncrana courthouse.
Buncrana courthouse.

The inquest into the deaths of eight men killed in a road traffic collision in Inishowen in 2010 heard every “minute detail” into what occurred is “vitally” important and “relevant” to their families.

The inquest into the deaths of Hugh Friel (66), Damien McLaughlin (21), PJ McLaughlin (21), James McEleney (23), Ciaran Sweeney (19), Paul Doherty (19), Eamonn McDaid (22) and Mark McLaughlin (21) opened in Buncrana on Wednesday, presided over by Coroner Dr John Madden.

The men died in a road traffic collision on the road between Buncrana and Clonmany on July 11th, 2010. Mr Hugh Friel was driving one car while the seven other men were travelling in a car driven by Shaun Kelly, Hill Road, Ballymagan, Buncrana.

Mr Kelly previously pleaded guilty to dangerous driving causing death and was sentenced to eight years imprisonment with four suspended.

As the inquest began, solicitor Ciaran MacLochlainn sought to have it adjourned due to the absence of Mr Kelly. He said his client had been present at every other proceeding and as much of the evidence would relate to him, it would be “grossly unfair” to proceed.

Coroner Madden refused the application for adjournment, stating Mr Kelly was not called as a witness as he could not recall any details of the collision or for a period of time afterwards.

Three witnesses called to give evidence could not attend and their depositions were read in to the court record by Inishowen Garda Inspector David Murphy.

Mr MacLochlainn also objected to this and states the depositions were an “edited” version of the witnesses’ Garda statements. He said the statements had been “chopped and changed” for the depositions and pointed out that in the absence of the witnesses,he could not cross-examine them in relation to their evidence. Mr MacLochlainn pointed out that there were 200 witnesses in the book of evidence but only 14 of these had been called to give evidence at the inquest.

Barrister Stephen Byrne, representing the Garda Commissioner, accused Mr MacLochlainn of “grandstanding, adding it was “unfair” to proceedings and to the witnesses.

The first witness was chief pathologist at Letterkenny General Hospital, Gerry O’Dowd. Mr O’Dowd, along with his colleague Dr Abdullah, carried out the autopsies on the eight men at Letterkenny General Hospital the day after their deaths. He outlined the pathology reports for each of the men. The causes of death found seven of the men died of multiple injuries consistent with a road traffic collision. Mr Paul Doherty’s cause of death was determined as severe head injuries consistent with a road traffic collision.

He added that in most cases, the injuries sustained were so catastrophic that the men would have died instantaneously.

Mr O’Dowd told the inquest: “We have never had a day like that in Letterkenny (hospital) and I hope we never have a day like that again.”

Coroner Madden noted how “very few” hospitals in the country could have “coped” with eight post mortems at the one time and said the hospital must be commended.

The inquest was then adjourned until Thursday morning to allow the families to consider the 14 witness depositions overnight.