Saturday 24 March 2018

Hero gardaí rescued arsonist from fatal blaze that killed two men

Rachel Crawshaw pictured at Cork Circuit Court in relation to the unlawfull killing of John Palmer (37) and Greg Lonergan (36), at Granary Court, St Joseph’s Road, Mallow Pic Cork Courts Limited
Rachel Crawshaw pictured at Cork Circuit Court in relation to the unlawfull killing of John Palmer (37) and Greg Lonergan (36), at Granary Court, St Joseph’s Road, Mallow Pic Cork Courts Limited
Ralph Riegel

Ralph Riegel

A young woman high on alcohol and prescription medication who started a fire in an apartment complex that resulted in the death of two men has been jailed for 10 years.

Rachel Crawshaw (29) wept as Judge Sean O’Donnabhain described her actions as “hugely reckless” in starting a fire with a cigarette lighter in a flat within a popular Cork apartment complex.

Judge O’Donnabhain said that but for the courage and professionalism of gardaí Liam Phillips and Catriona O’Sullivan, who evacuated the complex, more lives would have been lost.

Both gardaí were so badly injured getting people out of the burning building that they had to be hospitalised.

Greg Lonergan
Greg Lonergan

Crawshaw had pleaded guilty before Cork Circuit Criminal Court to the unlawful killing of John Palmer (37) and Greg Lonergan (36).

Crawshaw, of no fixed abode, also pleaded guilty to arson at Granary Court, St Joseph’s Road, Mallow, Co Cork, between March 12 and 13, 2014. The arson charge was brought contrary to the Criminal Damage Act, 1991.

Judge O’Donnabhain imposed a 15-year prison sentence but agreed to suspend the final five years in light of Crawshaw’s plea and remorse.

The court heard that she was a chronic alcohol and drug addict who had had “a chaotic upbringing”.

Chris Palmer
Chris Palmer

Gardaí found Crawshaw and Christopher Palmer, the twin brother of John Palmer, unconscious in the complex at 12.10am that morning and dragged them to safety.

Crawshaw was so distressed when she regained consciousness outside that she tried to get back into the burning building and had to be restrained.

Owing to the heat and smoke, gardaí were unable to get Mr Palmer and Mr Lonergan out of a top-floor flat.

But they successfully evacuated all other residents from the complex.

Mr Lonergan’s wife, Sonya, said her family would never get over what happened to “my best friend”.

“Greg was such a good man. He was a hard worker and a really nice person,” she said.

“This is just too hard to bear. It is hurting really bad – really deep in my heart.

“I knew her [Crawshaw] myself because she lived in the same terrace as me.

“I just cannot understand why she could do it. I will never understand it.”

Mrs Lonergan admitted that her loss was made all the more painful by the manner of her husband’s funeral arrangements.

“He was 100pc burned to death – that is what I was told. We couldn’t even get to see him in the coffin. He was my best friend in life.

“No matter what happened here today, it wasn’t ever going to bring Greg back.”

Gardaí and Mallow fire brigade were alerted to a blaze at the Granary Court complex in the north Cork town at 12.08am on March 13, two years ago.

When emergency services arrived at the new apartment complex, the fire had already engulfed one unit. Fire crews had to wear breathing apparatus to get into the smoke-filled complex.

After gardaí had evacuated all the other residents from the complex, fire crews located two men lying unconscious inside a rented top-floor apartment. Both were dragged out of the burning flat and given emergency treatment outside the building.

Tragically, neither could be revived and both Mr Palmer and Mr Lonergan were pronounced dead at the scene by a Mallow GP.

Both had suffered substantial burns.

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