Inquest hears details of crash that killed members of Twomey family

Tuesday 19 November 2013 21.39
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Elber and Con Twomey were on the last day of a family holiday in England when the collision happened
Elber and Con Twomey were on the last day of a family holiday in England when the collision happened
Much of the evidence today centred on police policy of handling of drivers known or deemed to be high risk
Much of the evidence today centred on police policy of handling of drivers known or deemed to be high risk

An inquest in Devon in England has heard details of a head-on collision involving an apparently suicidal taxi driver in which he and members of a Cork family died.

The collision claimed the lives of 39-year-old Con Twomey, his toddler son Oisin and left his wife Elber with serious head injuries.

The couple's unborn daughter was also killed.

The collision happened on 6 July last year on Hamelin Way in Torquay.

Today was the second day of the inquest into the deaths of Oisin and driver of the other car, 26-year-old Polish taxi driver Marek Wojciechowski.

Mr Twomey's death is not part of the inquest hearing because he died in Ireland having been repatriated to a hospital here from Devon where he was being treated for head injuries.

He died in May, ten months after the crash.

Today's inquest heard that Oisin died from catastrophic head and neck injuries and was pronounced dead in hospital.

The inquest heard that emergency medical personnel had tried to resuscitate him at the scene.

Wojciechowski was arrested at the scene of the collision but died later in hospital.

There was no evidence that he had been wearing a seat belt and there were no skid marks at the scene.

Mrs Twomey, the only surviving member of the family, left the inquest on several occasions to avoid hearing detail on the death of her son.

She is said to be still recovering from serious injuries suffered in the crash.

Evidence about police policy on high risk drivers

Much of the evidence today centred on police policy of handling of drivers known or deemed to be high risk. 

There were questions about whether police should have adopted a more softly-softly approach, knowing that the taxi driver had left a four-page note saying he intended to take his own life.

At the inquest, Mrs Twomey asked questions through her barrister Chris Hough about the lack of a specific police procedure to deal with "suicidal drivers".

On the first day of the inquest the jurors were told that the note told Agnieszka Wojciechowski that her husband did not blame her, loved his children and was sorry that things had not worked out between them.

Friends told how she was hysterical and unable to talk when she found the four-page apparent suicide note after asking him for a separation.

The couple had both previously worked at the Toorak Hotel in Torquay. Wojciechowski worked as a kitchen porter and later as a chef and his wife worked as a house keeper.

Three weeks before he died, he had started a new job working six nights a week for Torbay Taxis.

Court hears detail of efforts by emergency services

The Twomey family were on the last day of their south Devon holiday when the crash happened.

Mrs Twomey has been attending the inquest, supported by her brother and a family friend.

Twice on the first day she had to leave the courtroom to avoid hearing graphic descriptions of the emergency services fight to save the life of Oisin.

Today after hearing the evidence of the Home Office pathologist coroner, Mrs Twomey, who had not been present for that evidence, was told: "Oisin would have been immediately unconscious and I don't believe he would have been aware of the crash or any of the subsequent events."

One member of the public, John Onions, told how he let the Twomey family's Volkswagen Golf pull in front of him as they both turned from Kerswell Gardens roundabout up the hill to Hamelin Way.

He told the inquest. "It dawned on me afterwards that if I hadn't let them in at the bottom, it would have been me."

Mr Onions had to stop repeatedly as he gave evidence. He said he still suffers flashbacks from the crash.

He remembered how he noticed the family's car in a queue of traffic and let it go in front of him.

"I could see a child in the back and we both turned left."

He described the moment of impact. "It just took off. It came down, turned its steering wheel and just went straight across into the car in front of me.

"It sounds awful now, but the crash looked deliberate. It decided to accelerate and go straight across the road. The image was that the Vectra seemed to shoot straight across.

"It was impossible for them to do anything. The oncoming car decided to turn and go straight into it. It's as simple as that."

Royal Mail lorry driver Jeremy Spargo was heading down Hamelin Way when the black Vauxhall Vectra taxi passed him followed by a police car.

Driver made 'deliberate act of accelerating'

Police constable Bickford described how he drove at between 70mph and 80mph to catch up with the taxi. At that point, he signalled to the driver to pull over.

"When I saw that he wasn't going to stop I pulled back," he said. "I am not a trained pursuit driver. The driver was aware of my presence.

"As we approached the single carriageway he made a deliberate act of accelerating and driving straight into the other carriageway.

"The back end of the vehicle dipped dramatically, turning directly into an oncoming car. I was just in shock."

Pc Bickford was asked by the Twomey family's barrister Mr Hough: "Do you not think that approaching the back of the Vauxhall Vectra at some speed with your blue lights on might have exacerbated the situation?"

Chief Supt Jim Nye, who at the time of the incident was head of South Devon police, said: "No one foresaw that outcome. It is tragic and it affected the whole policing community but it was in line with guidelines.

"I don't think this has ever happened before in the Devon and Cornwall force.

"You cannot judge on the outcome, but on the decision-making process. The outcome is horribly tragic but what happened is very, very rare."

Retired coroner and forensic physician Dr Nigel Garbutt, who was one of the first at the scene, told how he gave mouth to mouth and tried to resuscitate Oisin for 15 minutes.

"I saw the child strapped in to a forward facing child safety seat. A police officer was reaching over the crash barrier.

"I managed to open a door to get access to the child. The child was not breathing and not responsive. At that point the child was clearly dead. I carried him to the ambulance."

Despite Dr Garbutt's diagnosis, doctors and paramedics fought for the next hour to try to resuscitate the young boy.