Jurors to hear 'harrowing' evidence at Donegal crash inquest

Thursday 25 February 2016 00.00
Shaun Kelly is serving a four-year jail sentence for the deaths of eight people
Shaun Kelly is serving a four-year jail sentence for the deaths of eight people

An inquest into the deaths of eight men who died in a crash in Co Donegal in 2010 has heard Letterkenny General Hospital never experienced anything like it before.

The crash on 11 July 2010 on a stretch of road between Clonmany and Buncrana claimed the lives of seven men in one car, all aged between 19 and 23, and the driver of the other car, 66-year-old Hugh Friel.

Opening proceedings in Buncrana, coroner Dr John Madden told jurors the evidence they would hear would be at times harrowing and technically complex.

Chief Pathologist at Letterkenny General Hospital Dr Gerry O'Dowd gave evidence of the injuries suffered and the cause of death in relation to each of the men.

"We have never had a day like that in Letterkenny and I hope we will never have a day like it again," he said. 

The father of victim Ciaran Sweeney asked Dr O’Dowd if his son had died instantly or had died in pain.

In response, Dr O'Dowd said it is extremely unlikely Ciaran died in pain, adding that it was also extremely unlikely he was aware of what was happening.

Solicitor Ciaran McLaughlin, representing Shaun Kelly, who is serving a four-year jail term for dangerous driving causing the deaths of the eight men, objected to the inquest going ahead without Kelly being present.

He said it was grossly unfair that the inquest should proceed in Kelly's absence but he was overruled by the coroner.

Mr McLaughlin also claimed that depositions read into the record by witnesses who were not present, were not the same as statements made to gardaí, saying they had been "chopped and changed".

The mother of victim James McEleney said there was a discrepancy in relation to deposition evidence of how her son got into the car on the night of the crash and she wanted the full story.

Stephen Byrne, for the Garda Commissioner, said families had a legitimate concern that they had not been told who would be called as a witness and he suggested the inquest be adjourned to allow them access to draft depositions which it is proposed to include in proceedings.

The coroner agreed to allow families read draft depositions overnight before resuming evidence tomorrow. 

In addition to Mr Friel, the other men who died were Eamonn McDaid, 22, of Ballymagan, Buncrana; Mark McLaughlin, 21, of Ballinahone, Fahan; Paul Doherty, 19, of Ardagh, Ballyliffin; Ciaran Sweeney, 19, of Ballyliffin; PJ McLaughlin, 21, of Rockstown, Burnfoot; James McEleney, 23, of Meenaduff, Clonmany; and Damien McLaughlin, 21, of Umricam, Buncrana.