Wednesday 18 July 2018

Student driver found screaming and 'in serious pain' following crash which killed her four friends, trial told

Dayna Kearney
Dayna Kearney

Andrew Phelan

TWO “hysterical” men hailed down a bus at the scene of a crash that claimed the lives of four young women, shouting in broken English: “help the girls, help the girls.”

A trial heard the driver of the crashed car, Dayna Kearney (23) was the only person showing signs of life, and gardai found her screaming and “in serious pain.”

Dayna Kearney
Dayna Kearney

The five friends were returning from ice skating when the VW Polo Ms Kearney was driving went out of control and crashed, passenger-side on into a VW Transporter van coming in the opposite direction.

Evidence was being heard today in the trial of Ms Kearney, who denies dangerous driving causing the death of her four friends in the accident in Co Kildare.

Aisling Middleton (19) from Athy, Gemma Nolan (19), Chermaine Carroll (20) and Niamh Doyle (19), from Carlow, all died “almost instantly” in the crash on the N78 Athy Link Road at Burtown, near Athy, on January 6, 2015.

Ms Kearney, a student from Crossneen, Carlow, has also pleaded not guilty to knowingly driving a dangerously defective vehicle.

She herself was badly injured in the accident.

Ms Kearney went on trial before Judge Eoin Garavan and a jury of seven women and five men at Kildare Circuit Court in Naas today.

This afternoon, Garda Rachel Murdiff was brought through maps of the scene and photographs taken after the accident.

The photographs showed the Polo on the grass margin, with the doors removed and the airbag deployed. The Transporter van had been moved from the rest position post-impact and front was removed. It was obvious from the photographs that the van had been on fire, she agreed with prosecutor Daniel Boland BL.

In cross-examination, Garda Murdiff said the speed limit on the road was 100kph.

The only scuff marks were on the right side of the road’s continuous white line, on the incorrect side of the road for the direction the Polo was travelling.

She could not say if they pre-existed.

Tracey Norton said in evidence she was driving her Ford Focus back from work and was behind the van, which was travelling at about 50 to 55mph.

She had come up behind the van, which pulled in to the hard shoulder a bit and slowed down. She thought the van driver was letting her go past and when she looked up she saw a silver car approaching.

She saw the car swerving on the road, then straightening back up. It then “shot across the road” in front of the van, she said.

Ms Norton agreed with Mr Boland that “it all happened very fast.”

She saw the passenger side of the car hitting the front of the van, which came to a halt.

She got out and ran to the other car before realising she had forgotten her phone. She returned to get her phone to call the emergency services.

She went back to the car and the driver was screaming, she said. This was Ms Kearney, who she did not know.

“I was trying to talk to her, to get her name but she just kept screaming,” Ms Norton said.

She saw a girl in the passenger seat and tried to see if she had a pulse in her neck but didn’t get anything, she said.

She did not think to look in the back passenger seats to see was anyone else in the car.

Two foreign national men then came over and said they were doctors and she noticed there were three girls in the back of the car.

The men said they could not do anything as they could not move the driver.

She saw smoke and flames coming out of the van.

In cross-examination, she agreed that the car did not appear to be travelling very fast. She agreed that something had caused it to spin before hitting the van, it happened suddenly, and the car “behaved in a strange fashion.”

The motion was not something she herself could have repeated as a driver.

Bus Eireann driver Mark Fitzgerald said he came across what looked like flashlights in the centre of the road but it was “two lads holding up their mobile phones, waving at the bus.”

He knew it was an accident and stopped the bus. Two “foreign lads” with broken English were “literally hysterical” and saying “help the girls, help the girls,” he said.

The VW Polo was on the hard shoulder.

A woman came up with a phone and asked him to call the emergency services.

Mr Fitzgerald took two trainee doctors off the bus and he saw immediately that it was a major accident. At this point, he paused in his evidence and said: “I’m aware that the families are here and I don’t want to distress them.”

He said he asked the trainee doctors if they could move the driver because she was “the only one in the car that I believed was alive.” They told him they could not move her.

Counsel for the defence said it was accepted that the four deceased died from the injuries they received in the accident and the prosecution did not have to concern themselves proving this aspect of the case.

Garda Deirdre Collins said when she got to the scene, the van was in the middle of the road and the silver car was on the grass verge.

The fire station master Ben Woodhouse told her there were “five females” in the car and he believed “the driver was the only person with signs of life.”

“It was clear the driver was in some distress,” Gda Collins said, adding that the ambulance crew were tending to her.

“She was screaming, she was in serious pain,” the garda said.

Ms Kearney was still in serious distress when she saw her in the ambulance. She got her name and address from her driving licence in a bag in the car.

“She certainly wasn’t able to speak to me,” Gda Collins said.

The van was on fire and the driver and passenger were on the grass verge, in need of medical treatment.

Garda Sergeant Donal O’Sullivan said Ms Kearney’s injuries were so severe she was not physically able to give a statement until four months later.

In her statement, she told gardai she had travelled to Kilkenny with her friends and they went ice skating, and then to McDonald’s afterwards.

“I remember leaving McDonalds but I have no recollection of the events which followed on that day,” she stated.

She told gardai she had bought the VW Polo in 2014 after coming across an advertisement on Done Deal. The ad stated the car had been NCTd and it was valid until April 2015.

“I bought the car that day believing that the car had valid NCT and was road worthy,” she told gardai.

She believed she did not need to get it NCTd until April 2015, but later found out it had run out in 2014. This was a “shock and devastating” to her and her family, she said.

She was not accompanied by a full licenced driver on the day of the accident and did not have L plates displayed.

In 2016, she was charged and appeared in court.

Re-called to give further evidence, Gda Murdiff said the road was on average 7.6m wide and the accident happened at a broken white line.

She said she received reports on the tyres. It was her opinion that the collision happened when the Polo veered onto the wrong side of the road, slid across the surface and came into contact with the van.

She agreed that the car had “yawed”, a motion where their wheels are rotating.

Travelling at 100kph, the accident could only have taken a couple of seconds and would have been almost instantaneous, she said.

There were scuff marks on the tyre which would equate to marks on the road. There were issues with two of the tyres and the court heard there would be evidence on that later.

In cross-examination, she said the scuff mark on the road was 46m.

Counsel for Ms Kearney said the defence had engaged an engineer who discovered the “cats eyes” in the middle of the road were 10mm above the maximum recommended level. This was not disputed by the prosecution.

Gda Murdiff agreed that if something caused the tyres to lose pressure it would make controlling the vehicle very difficult.

She said if a tyre was damaged by a cat’s eye, she would expect marks on the road. There was no blow-out or catastrophic failure of a tyre, she said.

Mariusz Wawrzos, the passenger in the van, gave evidence that he and the driver were returning from buying a scooter.

He estimated they were travelling at about 70kph and he asked the driver to slow down. He then saw the car sliding from left to right two to three times before it hit the van.

Tyre fitter Andrew McAuley said he recalled doing some work on the car but could not give gardai a date.

He replaced a punctured tyre with a second hand tyre that was in “perfect” condition, he said.

He knew the accused’s family,  fitted a good quality tyre and agreed with counsel for the defence that it would have been clear that Ms Kearney had been taking care of the car, which was her first.

Earlier, the prosecution’s case was opened by Mr Boland who told the jury the case involved a fatal road traffic accident that happened at 9.45pm on the N78 at Burtown in Athy.

It was an almost new road, it was a reasonable straight stretch and had a good surface, he said. The weather conditions were good, with no frost or rain and no speed was involved with either of the vehicles.

The accused was travelling from the Waterford motorway and had four girls as passengers, Mr Boland said.

Travelling in the opposite direction was a white transporter van with a driver and passenger, both of whom were Polish.

At some point as the two vehicles approached each other, Ms Kearney’s car “seemed to swerve and veer over to the wrong side of the road and crash, passenger side on” into the van.

“Unfortunately, the four passengers in the car were killed almost instantly,” Mr Boland said.

Four months later, Ms Kearney made a statement but had very little recollection of the accident.

She had been on a provisional driving licence at the time.

It was the prosecution’s case that although the car she was driving was in sound mechanical condition and the tyres all had good tread, “some were not at the correct inflated level” and this combined with the heavy load in the car caused it to swerve and “she was unable to control it, and that led to the fatal accident.”

Before the trial began, Ms Kearney, dressed in a black dress and leggings, came forward in court when her name was called and the charges were read out to her. She stood holding her hands in front of her.

“Not guilty”, she replied to the charges.

Read more here: Student denies dangerous driving in crash that killed her four friends 'almost instantly' - trial hears

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