News Analysis

Sunday 21 September 2014

Tragic crash mum of four was not at fault, says Danish driver

Dave Kenny

Published 08/09/2013 | 04:00

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Brian and Maria O'Shea, with their son Torben, their only child who survived the accident.
Connor O'Shea who died in a horrific car crash in Denmark.
A tweet from Mr Burholt about seeing himself on the front of a newspaper

A Danish driver who was involved in a crash which killed three Irish children in July has spoken for the first time about the accident.

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Lasse Burholt, 39, told the Sunday Independent he believes mum-of-four Maria O'Shea was not to blame for the motoring tragedy which has been described as Denmark's worst "in living memory".

Mr Burholt was driving to his father's house near Lendum, North Jutland, on July 16 when he collided with Maria's Citroen Berlingo.

Her three children, Soren, 11, Saoirse, 9, and Connor, 3, lost their lives. Maria, 39, who is Danish, survived without major injuries, while her four-and-a-half-month-old baby Torben sustained a broken leg. Her husband, Brian, 45 – who is from Dalkey – was not in the car.

Mr Burholt told the Sunday Independent that he was driving his Mitsubishi Grandis over the speed limit (80kmh), and had his cruise control off, at the time of the crash. He says his speed was "never a secret".

"I testified to the police at the hospital that I was speeding," said Mr Burholt via email from his home in Denmark. "Witnesses at the crash site also told the police that I had told them about speeding.

"The [Danish] newspapers went crazy when the crash report was released ... For four days they were feeding on the story – I was on the cover of a national newspaper twice in a very negative context. I was accused of withholding the speeding issue from the police.

"It lead to a lot of threats and harassment. Mostly online through my different social-media platforms but also through offline channels [SMS, email etc]. I even had people driving by my home honking the horns of their car in a very provocative way."

The O'Sheas, who live in Western Australia, were on holidays visiting Maria's dad at the time of the accident.

She was on her way to drop the children off with friends when tragedy struck as she was making a left turn at a junction.

"I had no sense that we were in any danger," she said in an interview carried last week in the Sunday Independent. "I looked, I didn't see anybody. The next thing I know, I am crawling around looking for my children."

Maria is a GP and attempted to resuscitate her fatally-injured children. Brian was called to the scene and later, with his wife, identified the children's bodies. The following day the police interviewed the grieving mum who gave her version of events.

"Afterwards," said Brian, "the police reports came out saying that Maria had overlooked the oncoming driver who was travelling within the speed limit. It was said time and again without any investigation. Their spokesman, Christian Brinck, was quoted in The Irish Times saying that Burholt was not at fault in any way."

The couple had to wait a month before the official crash report was released. It confirmed that Mr Burholt was speeding. In that time they received no communication from him clarifying that he was over the speed limit.

"It was torture. Burholt had every opportunity to let us know he was speeding. The sole responsibility for the death of our children lay on Maria's head for four weeks," Brian said in the interview last week.

"She went through hell not trusting herself and her memory of the crash. She is now afraid to get behind the wheel of a car," he has now added.

Maria has heard nothing directly from Mr Burholt to date. Brian received a Facebook message from the project manager after he was re-interviewed by police a month after the crash. He received another after last week's Sunday Independent interview with the couple.

"While I was hospitalised, I tried to find out who Maria was, since I had heard that she grew up in the same area as me," says Mr Burholt. "At that time I did not know the name of her husband or any intelligence other than the fact that she was on vacation in the area where I grew up – and living in Australia.

"I tried to find Maria on Facebook and did some research on Google but did not find her. Days went by and days became weeks. I came to the conclusion that if Maria needed details from my point of view – my experience of the crash – she was welcome to contact me since I am much easier to find and reach than she apparently was.

"Since the speed issue has never been a secret, I reckoned that the O'Shea family was aware of this or would learn from local people, since we have mutual acquaintances – friends of mine know both Maria's parents and a couple of their close friends in the area."

Mr Burholt says he was not able to keep up with all the news stories between July 16 and 21 and did not see the police statement to The Irish Times. "I only read statements from Hjorring police station."

After discussing the situation with his wife, Mr Burholt decided not to go to the funeral.

"My wife and I talked about whether I should attend ... but we came to the conclusion that, from our point of view, it might upset relatives or maybe even Maria or Brian."

Mr Burholt has told the Sunday Independent that he believes Maria is not to blame for the tragedy.

He writes: "I would like to emphasise the fact that I do not blame Maria for the accident in any way whatsoever. It was an accident. I have told this to numerous people: It was a tragic accident. We were both at the wrong place at the wrong time.

"She was there because the main road through Lendum was closed. I was there because of an impulse decision to visit my dad on my way home from my work; I changed my normal routines and had my cruise control off. It is always on at 85-90kmh when I drive to my work and back. There are numerous speed controls on the two routes I drive back and forth. Tragic accident. Period."

"I have not met or talked to anyone who has been negative towards Maria and her role in the accident. Everyone is sympathising with her. The accident could happen to anyone. Anywhere."

Mr Burholt describes himself as a "project co-ordinator, which involves setting up projects and support-teams for mentally challenged adults, often outward-reacting, often with criminal backgrounds, who need behavioural support or basic daily support".

"I am deeply sorry for the loss Maria and Brian have experienced. I hope by God that they will cope with the tragedy and the grief in the best way possible. I hope that life will bring Maria, Brian and Torben all the best."

The O'Sheas, who are out of Ireland at present, have replied to Mr Burholt's comments.

"The issue for us," said Brian, "is the fact that neither the police nor Mr Burholt made it clear at the time of the accident that Maria was not either partially or totally at fault. Quite the opposite. The police made a press statement that Burholt was in no way to blame, and that he was travelling at 80kmh."

Brian said police later told him the crash report put Mr Burholt's speed at at 125kmh, plus or minus 10pc.

"Mr Burholt talks of us receiving word of his actions through a network of various friends in the weeks after the accident. We ourselves spoke to these people, voicing our concerns about his speed. It is strange that his network did not give him a heads-up on what our views were.

"Of course, Mr Burholt will have his own opinion about the events of the past seven weeks. He is completely entitled to offer this view. This view does present certain questions, but I will leave that to the police and those that have followed our story.

"The end game is that three children have died unnecessarily. Speed was a factor in this accident. Speed implies risk. Perhaps we could all consider leaving 15 minutes earlier."

Sunday Independent

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