Martin Strain was just 19 years old when he died in a single vehicle collision in Tooban, Burnfoot on August 23, 2015.
His inquest was heard in front of Donegal Coroner Doctor Denis McCauley in Letterkenny on Tuesday.
Mr Strain was one of three people travelling in a Volkswagon Golf from Buncrana towards Burnfoot on the night of the collision. The driver, Evan Quinn and Mr Strain’s girlfriend of two years, Kayleigh Fullerton, a back seat passenger, were injured.
Ms Fullerton’s deposition was read into the inquest by Garda Sergeant Sean McDaid.
She told how, on August 22, 2015, Martin Strain wrote to her on Facebook to ask if she wanted a lift to work at Liberty’s nightclub in Buncrana. She told him she was ‘grand.’ Ms Fullerton was working in the cocktail bar in the club. At 2am, Mr Quinn and Mr Strain came up to the bar and Mr Strain had a cocktail. At 3.55am, Ms Fullerton was picked up by Mr Quinn and Mr Strain and she got into the backseat of the car. The trio were travelling to Martin Strain’s house in Burnfoot. She said she ‘must have fallen asleep’ as she does not remember going through Fahan.She then remembers ‘a feeling of being in the air.’ She does not remember hearing any noise and added how she ‘didn’t feel like anything bad was going to happen.’
Ms Fullerton added that she did not remember the car swerving or going too fast but remembers Mr Quinn ‘screaming for help’ and a Mr Dean Lynch, who came on the scene, talking to her. She does not remember anything until a few days later in hospital, when her brother told her Martin had died, which she did not initially believe.
Ms Fullerton sustained a number of injuries and spent six days in the Intensive Care Unit and seven days in the High Dependancy Unit.
The deposition of Mr Quinn, of Meenagory, Buncrana, was also read into the inquest. He said he had texted Mr Strain earlier in the evening and they decided to just ‘drive about instead of drinking.’
He remembered being in the Atlantic Bar, playing pool and also being ‘pulled over by the guards’ who asked him why he was driving so slowly. He said he replied it was ‘better than going too fast.’ He told how he remembers leaving Libertys and it was ‘lashing rain.’ He does not remember anything afterwards until he ‘came around’ in hospital, where he was told Mr Strain had died.
Evidence was then heard from Mr Gavin Brown, who arrived at the scene on the night. The inquest heard he and a front seat passenger, Dean Lynch, came across debris on the road in Tooban at around 4.40am on the left hand side of the road travelling towards Buncrana. Mr Brown said he thought someone may have been in a collision earlier in the night but Mr Lynch told him to point his car lights down past a pole which was ’down’ on the road.
Upon doing so, they saw a crashed car and Mr Brown recognised a sticker on the back and knew the vehicle belonged to Evan Quinn. They ‘jumped out’ and Mr Brown rang emergency services.
The inquest heard that he walked to the car and as he looked down, he saw Mr Strain lying on the ground. Mr Brown said it was clear Mr Strain had died and he could not find a pulse. He added how he could hear people shouting and saw Mr Quinn trapped in the vehicle and Ms Fullerton trapped in the back. Mr Brown flagged down an oncoming Garda car, being driven by Garda Killian Callaghan and informed him of the collision. Mr Brown said he was ‘panicking and trying to get help’ for his friends.
Gda Killian Callaghan said he was on mobile patrol and was on his way to Buncrana from Newtown. It was raining heavily and had been for a couple of hours. There was also ‘quite a lot of surface water and driving conditions were poor.’
When Mr Brown flagged him down, Gda Callaghan called for assistance and said he saw Mr Lynch ‘down on his hunkers, trying to reassure the person that help was on the way.’ Gda Callaghan also saw Mr Strain lying on the ground, motionless, with no signs of life.
He also saw Mr Quinn, trapped on the driver’s side, with the seatbelt around him. He was able to talk and was shouting:’Let me out.’ Ms Fullerton was also able to talk and both were reassured that help was on the way. A number of Gardai and emergency services arrived on the scene. The fire service removed both Mr Quinn and Ms Fullerton from the scene and tranferred them to hospital in separate ambulances.
Evidence was also heard from Dr Brewer, who pronounced Mr Strain dead at the scene, which was also attended by two local priests.
The inquest also heard the findings of a post mortem, which found Mr Strain died from multiple injuries sustained in a road traffic incident.
Garda Damien Mulkearns, PSV Inspector, later examined the vehicle on August 31, 2015 and told the inquest it had sustained ‘massive damage over the entire body.’ He found that the vehicle’s suspension, steering and braking were all in a serviceable condition. The front tyres were also in a serviceable condition, while the two rear tyres were ‘almost completely bald.’ The front passenger seatbelt was locked in a rest position and buckled and cut and all seatbelts were available. No airbags had been deployed.
Dr McCauley asked Gda Mulkearns what effect the worn tyres would have had on the car’s performance. Gda Mulkearns replied that, in wet conditions, they would ‘seriously inhibit’ the turning of the vehicle on a left hand bend.
“A rear grip is essential to keep the car on the road, but the rear tyres were completely bald.”
Garda Gerard McCauley, Forensic Collison Investigator visited the scene on the morning of the collision, He noted ‘very brief’ tyre marks on the left hand verge coming from the Fahan direction, The road was an 80kph speed limit, leading on to a 60kph limit near where the collision occurred.
Gda McCauley said the car had drifted on to the left hand verge as it went around a bend and the driver got it back on to the road. However, it lost control and went into a ‘clockwise spin’ before travelling across the road where it impacted with a kerb, a timber bus shelter, a metal lampost and tree, before ‘spinning violently’ and coming to rest. The engine was ejected on impact and the car sustained ‘catastrophic damage.’
Gda McCauley said his investigations showed the road was giving ‘good grip’ even though it was wet. He said he could not give an accurate speed at which the car was travelling as it had ‘rotated’ across the road and therefore did not leave deep skid marks. But he said he was ‘confident’ it as travelling above 80kph.
Gda McCauley said the bend was a ‘gentle one’ and the road was not considered to be a factor in the collision. The weather was also not considered to be a factor, with a ‘caveat’ that this would be so if travelling at the speed limit.
He said driver action could be attributed to the collision and said the driver ‘inextricably entered a grass verge and triggered a chain of events.’ He said speed would also have to be considered a factor and while exact speed could not be determined, braking distance at 80kph should be 40m. Mr Quinn’s car travelled 120 metres from the grass verge to where it came to rest.
Dr McCauley determined that Mr Strain died from multiple injuries sustained in a road traffic incident and outlined how a verdict was reached in a court case in the Circuit Court and he ‘cannot interfere with that’ and therefore the verdict is that of the Circuit Court on May 2, 2019. (Mr Quinn pleaded guilty to Careless Driving Causing Death and received a suspended sentence.)
Dr McCauley expressed his condolences to Mr Strain’s family and said it was his understanding he was a ‘good lad’ and he had heard ‘many positive things’ about him. He also thanked those on the scene of the collision on the night, as well as the emergency servcies. Sgt McDaid also expressed his condolences on behalf of Gardai.
Solicitor Mr Pat McMyler, acting on behalf of the family, expressed gratitude to the people who tried to help at the scene on the night and assisted Gardai. He said that Martin’s family outlined how he was ‘much loved’ by anyone and everyone who ‘had the pleasure’ of knowing him. He described him as a ‘delightful young man who was full of joy’ and also highlighted his family and friends ‘level of consideration and forgiveness throughout.’