‘Lessons must be learned’ from father and son’s deaths

The family of a father and son who died in a road smash on a ungritted Burt road were ‘failed’, says the county’s Deputy Mayor.

The inquests were held on Friday into the deaths of John Gallagher (55) and his only son Sean (24), pictured below, who were killed on January 30 last year on a sweeping bend on the main Derry to Letterkenny Road.

And a jury returned a cause of death as accidental death “caused due to the conditions of the road at the time”.

Now the deputy Mayor, and Buncrana Mayor, Padraig MacLochlainn has spoken out about the accident, saying it was a failure nationally that not enough salt was supplied to adequately grit Donegal’s roads.

Speaking to the Journal yesterday he said: “It is a damning indictment of the government that the Gardai have given evidence to say in their opinion the roads were treacherous condition and the road was not gritted. The road there at Burt is a national route, and I can’t think of any reason why it wasn’t treated.”

Garda Carl Campbell - who was the first officer at the scene of the accident - told the coroner’s court, held in Carndonagh, that the road was ‘extremely icy’.

Under cross-examination by Gallagher family solicitor, Seamus Gunn, Garda Campbell said that, in his opinion, the accident would not have happened if the road had been gritted.

Colr MacLochlainn, who knew the victims personally, said Mr Gallagher was a highly respected local community activist in Ramelton and he had worked with him several times. He said the accident will need to be reviewed.

“There is no getting away from this - the Gallaghers have been let down and now this has had a truly devastating effect on a wonderful family. I can understand that road engineers have to make a call in real time on the information available to them, but this is a tragedy for everyone involved and clearly lessons have to be learned.”

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The driver of the other car was 59 year old Noreen McGrory from Drimark, Donegal Town, who was travelling alone in a silver Skoda Superb, to an appointment in Derry.

The men, from Castle Street, Ramelton, were returning home after dropping off Sean’s girlfriend at City of Derry Airport.

Garda crash investigator, Frank Lavin, told the inquest that all three people involved in the collision had been wearing their seatbelts.

He said Mr Gallagher lost control of his car “due to the poor road conditions” and crashed into Mrs McGrory’s oncoming vehicle. He tried to steer the vehicle back to safety but was unable, the coroner’s court was told.

It was stressed that Mr Gallagher and Mrs McGrory were “entirely without fault” in the accident. Eyewitness Maric Ver Schuur was driving a small van behind John Gallagher’s car. He said they were travelling at no more than 40mph because road conditions were bad. Mr Ver Schuur said he had noticed a marked deterioration in the condition of the roads after leaving Derry, where they were gritted, and crossing over the border into Co Donegal.

Meanwhile, the inquest heard that Mrs McGrory suffered a number of injuries to her chest, fingers and legs and was in hospital for three days.

Donegal coroner, Dr John Madden said both father and son had suffered “catastrophic and unsurvivable” internal injuries in the impact. They were pronounced dead at the scene. Dr Madden said for a family to lose all the men in the house in one accident, was particularly tragic. He offered his sympathies to Mr Gallagher’s wife Hillary and daughters Aisling (23), Aoife (19) and Eilish (15).

Mr Gunn asked the jury to add a rider to their verdict that, in the event of icy conditions, the local authority either grits a road or closes it.

The jury of four women and three men declined to add the rider but returned a verdict of accidental death “caused due to the conditions of the road at the time”.

Dr Madden said he would send a copy of the inquest report to Donegal County Council. “We have heard a lot about cutbacks in council budgets and road gritting is unfortunately one of the casualties of these cutbacks. But people should have a reasonable expectation that when they set out on a journey, the road will be fit for purpose,” said Dr Madden.

Nobody from Donegal County Council was available to comment at the time of going to press.