Sunday 16 December 2018

Grace killed by carbon monoxide as fire ripped through her bedroom

Colin O’Neill with his late fiancée Grace McDermott.
Colin O’Neill with his late fiancée Grace McDermott.

David Raleigh

A young university lecturer died from carbon monoxide poisoning after a fire ripped through the bedroom in which she was sleeping.

An inquest into the death of Grace McDermott (26) heard she hadn't intended staying in the house at The Oaks, Riverbank, Annacotty, Co Limerick, that night, but had lost her hotel room keycard.

The DCU lecturer, originally from New York, had travelled from Dublin to Limerick to take part in the Great Limerick Run on April 30, 2017.

Limerick Coroner's Court was told how, having lost her keycard, she stayed at a friend's house after unexpectedly bumping into him while out socialising after the race.

The inquest heard the cause of the fire, which broke out in the early hours of May 1, was likely a lamp accidentally falling over onto a couch in the bedroom where Ms McDermott slept. The lamp was missing its base and was resting against the couch.

Garda Sgt Dave Bourke, a scenes of crime officer, said the "initial focus" of the investigation centred around a laptop charger discovered in the room. However, this was later discounted.

Grace’s father Robert at the inquest yesterday. Photo: Liam Burke/Press 22
Grace’s father Robert at the inquest yesterday. Photo: Liam Burke/Press 22

The investigation switched to the lamp, but he added: "We found no evidence of a lamp."

It was accepted by all parties the lamp could have been destroyed in the fire.

Paul Collins, a forensic scientist who carried out a flammable field test on the partially destroyed couch, agreed under questioning from solicitor Cian O'Carroll, representing the McDermott family, that if it had been compliant with the highest fire safety standards, the blaze may not have occurred.

Coroner John McNamara said the only verdict he could return was an "accidental death".

He said a number of unfortunate events led to Ms McDermott staying at her friend's house after she became separated from another friend whom she had planned to stay with in the hotel.

"A series of events transpired which unfortunately led to Grace being in the house where a lamp had fallen over, and it would appear, was the catalyst for the fire," he said.

The room was fitted with a firedoor, the court heard.

Mr McNamara said he would contact the Department of the Environment recommending smoke detectors be fitted in every bedroom of every new home in the future.

"I don't know how practical it is but I don't think it would be a high price to pay to save some lives," he said.

"Fire-doors prevent (fires) escaping, but when someone is in the room, it's giving them no chance," he added.

Four others were in the house at the time of the fire but all escaped uninjured. Cathal Sheridan, a friend of Ms McDermott's who invited her back to the house, said he tried to rescue her but was held back by his housemates.

"My abiding memory is roaring Grace's name. She was the nicest girl you could ever meet, the smartest, most intelligent girl."

Ms McDermott's father Robert and her fiancé Colin O'Neill attended the inquest.

Mr O'Neill, from Portmarnock, told how following the fire, gardaí gave him back the engagement ring he had presented to Grace.

Irish Independent

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