TWO people died after a woman drove for 8km on the wrong side of a motorway, an inquest was told yesterday.
The tragedy was described as an "ultimate nightmare" for motorists by a coroner.
And the woman caused a head-on collision in the fast lane of the motorway, coroner Brian Mahon said.
The details emerged at the inquest into the death of Helen Gonoude (66), of Derrygolan, Killeigh, Co Offaly.
The inquest at Offaly Coroner's Court heard Mrs Gonoude had "a moderate-to-high alcohol level" when she drove against the flow of traffic in the fast lane of the M6 Dublin to Galway, in Co Westmeath, heading towards Dublin.
Although a number of attempts were made to stop her, Mrs Gonoude collided head-on with a car between Moate and Clara on June 28 last year.
The driver of the second car -- Galway native Delia Flaherty who was in her 30s -- died in hospital three days later.
It is believed Mrs Gonoude, who was driving home after visiting her son Joe's home in Rochfortbridge for the first time, missed her exit before joining the motorway in the wrong direction at Garrycastle.
At around 2.30pm, Sarah Brennan was driving on the motorway towards Athlone from the Dublin side when she saw a blue car driving towards her in the overtaking lane.
Although she took evasive action and beeped her horn at the car, Ms Brennan said the woman driving "never braked, slowed or looked up at me".
Garda Elaine Conlon said she was on the M6 when she "suddenly noticed cars in front braking", trying to avoid an oncoming vehicle which had slowed due to the heavy traffic.
"I ran to the window and banged on the window . . . I told her to stop," Garda Conlon said: "She looked at me but she didn't make contact with me, she just drove on."
Mullingar-based Garda Eva O'Connor was working in the area when she got a call about the incident. Keeping the traffic behind her at a distance, she drove along the motorway with blue lights flashing until the Mrs Gonoude's car approached.
Gda O'Connor got out of her car. "I signalled to the driver to stop. However, as it got closer it was not reducing speed. This lady did not look at me, she drove around me."
A member of the public attempted to speak with the driver. However, the car again drove around the traffic and continued.
Just over half a kilometre away, Elizabeth and William McGuinness were in a lorry, driving towards Athlone.
"I saw a car overtake us on the right-hand lane. The next thing both cars collided headlong and seemed to jump in the air," Mrs McGuinness told gardai.
Mr McGuinness used an extinguisher to put out a fire in Mrs Gonoude's car before comforting Ms Flaherty until the ambulance arrived.
Both victims were taken to the Midland Regional Hospital at Tullamore where Mrs Gonoude was pronounced dead. Ms Flaherty was subsequently transferred to Beaumont Hospital in Dublin.
Pathologist Dr Miriam Walshe conducted a post-mortem examination on Mrs Gonoude at the Midland Regional Hospital in Tullamore on June 29.
Dr Walshe said Mrs Gonoude's blood-alcohol level may have been a contributory factor as it was "high enough to cause problems with driving ability". The jury found Mrs Gonoude had died as a result of injuries consistent with a road traffic collision.