Sunday 20 August 2017

Haunting words by bereaved dad to spark road reforms

Catastrophic Christmas tragedy could lead to crackdown on learner drivers

Noel Clancy, who lost his wife and daughter in the accident, outside Cork Circuit Criminal Court Photo: Daragh Mc Sweeney/Cork Courts Limited
Noel Clancy, who lost his wife and daughter in the accident, outside Cork Circuit Criminal Court Photo: Daragh Mc Sweeney/Cork Courts Limited
Ralph Riegel

Ralph Riegel

There are two families both dreading the prospect of Christmas.

Two catastrophic misjudgments by a young motorist - one to drive unaccompanied on a learner permit and the second to attempt to negotiate a blind junction without stopping - unleashed a nightmare for the families, who are next-door neighbours.

Victims Louise (pictured) and Geraldine Clancy survived the initial impact but were trapped in their overturned car and drowned
Victims Louise (pictured) and Geraldine Clancy survived the initial impact but were trapped in their overturned car and drowned

The sheer scale of the tragedy in which mother and daughter Geraldine (58) and Louise (22) Clancy drowned in a flooded ditch after their Ford car was struck by the vehicle driven by Susan Gleeson (21) has raised fundamental questions about Ireland's road safety system.

Ms Gleeson wept as she apologised to the Clancy family last Monday at a hushed Cork Circuit Criminal Court and received a three-year suspended prison sentence after pleading guilty to dangerous driving causing death on December 22, 2015.

Respected

Such is the trauma of what happened, there are times she now wishes she had died as well. "There are just no words to say how sorry I am," she sobbed.

Geraldine Clancy
Geraldine Clancy

Noel Clancy admitted he lost both his past and his future with the horrific deaths of his beloved wife and youngest daughter.

Now, he is determined that no other family suffers a loss like his and has pleaded for sweeping road safety reforms. He has been backed by road safety group PARC, which wants tougher controls on learner drivers who get behind the wheel unaccompanied.

PARC was founded by Susan Gray who lost her own husband, Stephen, in a Donegal collision involving a learner driver.

Since June, seven road fatalities have occurred from collisions involving learner drivers.

Learner driver Susan Gleeson wept in court as she apologised to the Clancy family Photo: Daragh McSweeney/Provision
Learner driver Susan Gleeson wept in court as she apologised to the Clancy family Photo: Daragh McSweeney/Provision

The Clancy and Gleeson families form part of a tight-knit, hard-working and respected Kilworth community.

But all their lives changed shortly after 11am on December 22. Noel had said the usual morning goodbyes as he went to work on the family dairy farm.

"Little did I think that it was the last time I would ever see them alive again," he said.

Geraldine, a mother of three, had promised to drive Louise into nearby Fermoy to catch a bus to University College Cork (UCC).

The family were incredibly proud of Louise, who had defied almost choking at birth and then her subsequent diagnosis of autism. She attended Loreto Secondary School in Fermoy, earned a place at UCC and then a prestigious Erasmus placement at the University of Sussex.

"Nothing came easy to Louise. She had everything planned out ahead. But all those plans died with her," Noel recalled.

As the two women drove towards Fermoy along the R666, they approached a blind junction.

An Opel Vectra approached, failed to yield and, as it attempted to negotiate the turn, ploughed directly into their car.

A series of freak coincidences sealed their fate. A previous collision some 10 years before had left part of the roadside wall collapsed. A roadside dyke - the exact width of the Clancys' car - was flooded to a depth of 0.8 metres.

Their car overturned directly into the dyke.

Geraldine and Louise both survived the initial impact but now found themselves trapped and drowning.

By the time low-loaders arrived at the scene a few minutes later, it was already too late.

One of the first on the scene was Noel Clancy.

"When the firemen pulled them from the car, I did not recognise them," he recalled.

"They were blue and purple from the cold water. It was only when I read the number plate of the car that I knew it was Geraldine and Louise."

Mr Clancy described the last 11 months as a living nightmare.

Anniversary

With his other two children, Fiona and Declan, they now dread Christmas and the first anniversary.

"Our lives are destroyed, our family torn apart and our hearts are broken," Noel Clancy said.

"I was married to Geraldine for 10,705 days and I would be happy to trade a lot of those days for just one minute to say goodbye," he said.

Mr Clancy said that last Christmas, instead of hosting a family festive gathering, he found himself organising two funerals.

"Most people wake from a nightmare in the morning."

"But I wake every day to a nightmare - a real nightmare. The pain is there all the time."

His daughter Fiona admitted that the approaching Christmas will be very difficult.

"I await Christmas with fear and dread," she said.

"Now, Christmas feels like further salt rubbed into the wound - unimaginable torture."

Irish Independent

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