Monday 18 December 2017

'I wish I could turn back the clock... I feel very guilty' - Student apologises

Mum and daughter Geraldine (58) and Louise (22) Clancy drowned after freak road incident

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
Geraldine Clancy and her daughter Louise Ann Clancy
Ralph Riegel

Ralph Riegel

"I wish I could turn back the clock and that this never happened... I would do anything to replace their lives. I feel very guilty."

These are the words of Susan Gleeson (21), a college student who pleaded guilty to dangerous driving causing the deaths of a mum and daughter.

Geraldine (58) and Louise (22) Clancy died in a freak drowning tragedy following a road traffic collision in December 2015.

Speaking after the inquest in Cork yesterday, Ms Clancy said she "would do anything" to bring their lives back.

Ms Gleeson personally apologised to the Clancy family who are her next door neighbours.

"It all happened in a split second. My initial thought was that it was not a strong impact. I did not fear for my life or the people in the other car," she said.

"I feel so sorry for the Clancy family. I know they are devastated. I wish I could turn back the clock and that this never happened.

"I would do anything to replace their lives. I feel very guilty. I am devastated at what happened that day. I am attending counselling.

Geraldine Clancy and her daughter Louise Ann Clancy
Geraldine Clancy and her daughter Louise Ann Clancy

"I never wanted for any of this to happen. There isn't a day that I don't think about it and the heartache I have caused them," she continued.

"There are no words to say how sorry I am."

The inquest also heard from Sgt McNamara that Ms Gleeson immediately told Gardai at the scene she misjudged the junction and had failed to yield.

Ms Gleeson, a University of Limerick student, was on her way to a dental appointment and was driving unaccompanied on a Provisional learner permit.

She had completed nine of her 12 driving lessons.

The student admitted to Gardaí her full concentration was not on the road.

However, excessive speed, alcohol and mobile phone usage were not factors in the tragedy.

The accident happened less than 1km from the Clancy's family farm.

After pleading guilty to dangerous driving before Cork Circuit Criminal Court last November, she received a 15 year driving ban and handed a three year suspended prison sentence.

Horror

Tragically, one of the first to arrive on the scene in a bid to help shortly after 11am that day was the victim's husband and father, Noel Clancy.

He initially didn't recognise the overturned Ford as their family car.

When the bodies of the two women - turning blue from the cold water - were brought onto the road and paramedics began desperately trying to revive them, he didn't initially recognise them as his wife and daughter.

The full horror of what had happened only dawned on him when he realised that the car was the identical make, model and colour as his own family car - and he then spotted that the license plate number was the same.

Last April, the inquest heard medical evidence that both the mother and daughter drowned.

Assistant State Pathologist Dr Margaret Bolster conducted post mortem examinations on both at Cork University Hospital (CUH) on December 23.

Dr Bolster confirmed that both died from acute cardio-respiratory failure due to drowning.

Heavy rainfall and flooding of the River Blackwater had left the dyke beside the Kilworth-Fermoy road full of water to a depth of almost 90cm (three foot) last winter.

Local fields were also heavily flooded.

Louise, who had autism, had successfully defied her condition to study first at Loreto secondary school in Fermoy and then at University College Cork (UCC).

She had only arrived home days before the tragedy from her Erasmus Scholarship placement at the University of Sussex in the UK to spend Christmas with her family.

Louise was a prolific writer and published numerous blogs on living and working with autism.

Special tributes were paid to Louise last year to mark World Autism Awareness Day.

Inquest

The inquest into the tragic mum and daughter also heard that a passing soldier felt the young victim squeeze his hand as he tried in vain to rescue them.

The jury in the inquest of Geraldine (58) and Louise (22) Clancy has also made recommendations for stricter rules for learner drivers.

The two women drowned on December 22 2015 when their vehicle ploughed into a flooded ditch in north Cork after it had been struck by another car at a blind junction on the R666 road.

At Mr Clancy's request, a Mallow inquest jury today issued a recommendation to Transport Minister Shane Ross that Gardai be given the power to impound any vehicle driven by an unaccompanied learner permit holder.

The jury also issued a recommendation that Cork Co Council repair a broken wall at the scene of the accident.

The inquest heard that both mother and daughter were trapped in their vehicle that day as it wedged upside down in the ditch which was flooded with 0.8 metre of water from the River Blackwater.

Ms Gleeson had failed to yield at a blind junction and, in attempting to take the turn, lost control of her car and struck Mrs Clancy's car as it was passing.

Mrs Clancy was 100pc correct in her driving and was powerless to avoid the incident.

In a freak series of coincidences, Mrs Clancy's car went through a portion of the ditch where a wall had previously collapsed - and then entered the most heavily flooded section of the ditch.

Tragically, the doors of her car were wedged tightly closed after it landed upside down in the ditch whose width exactly matched that of her Ford car.

A passing motorist, off-duty Defence Forces soldier, Sean O'Grady, attempted to force open the doors to save the two women who could be heard screaming inside the flooding car.

He opened the passenger's door sufficient to get his arm inside - and felt his hand being squeezed by Louise Clancy.

"He held her arm," Sgt John McNamara said.

"She (Louise) squeezed his hand for a short time and then become lifeless."

Speaking after the inquest, Mr Clancy told Independent.ie that the law needed to be changed.

"We are living a life sentence of loss. There is no question about that," he said.

"There isn't an hour, a minute or a second that we don't think about Geraldine and Louise."

"I have stood at the crash scene and wondered how was my wife Geraldine who was as careful and safe a driver so unfortunate as to come across another road user who made decisions and took risks with total disregard to the safety and lives of others."

"If ever there was an example of a case why the law requires learner permit holders  to be accompanied at all times then this is it," he said.

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