Tuesday 21 November 2017

Student knocked unconscious and suffered bleed to the brain after powerboat crashed into bridge

The rail bridge at Marine View, Athlone.
The rail bridge at Marine View, Athlone.

Tim Healy

A student was knocked unconscious and suffered a bleed to her brain when a powerboat she was a passenger in crashed into a bridge on the River Shannon, the High Court heard.

Millie O'Donnell (21), Laburnam Road, Clonskeagh, Dublin, is suing the driver of the boat, Richard Coffey (24), Merrion Park, South Avenue, Blackrock, Co Dublin, over the incident on July 14, 2012.

She is also suing the boat owner, Brian Corcoran, of Lecarrow, Co Roscommon.

Mr Coffey denies negligence including driving at an excessive speed and going into a position of obvious danger.

Mr Corcoran denies he is vicariously liable for the alleged negligence of Mr Coffey.

The court heard the boat, a rigid inflatable (RIB) hit a pillar of the rail bridge at Marine View, Athlone.

Ms O'Donnell was knocked out while the driver and another young man were thrown into the water.  A fourth person on the Rib managed to put it into neutral when it started spinning around.

Ms O'Donnell, an Alexandra College student at the time who played on Leinster and Ireland under 18 Hockey teams, was sitting in the bow (front) of the RIB, her back facing the direction it was travelling in when it hit the pillar.

The RIB, with a 40 horse power engine, was described by Mr Justice Michael Hanna as the the "Maserati of the high seas", a reference to fastest car in the world.

Ms O'Donnell told the court she was in Athlone for the weekend in the family's Shannon cruiser and met some friends who were invited to an 18th birthday party upriver at Coosan Point.

She was not going to go to the party and had not been drinking, but decided to accompany her friend Molly Henshaw to pick up her (Molly's) own Rib which was moored elsewhere so that more people who had come along could travel to the party.

With them was Mr Coffey, who drove the boat, and another young man, David Jinks.  Only she and Molly were wearing life jackets.  It was around 10pm and getting dark.

After sitting into the RIB, the last thing she remembered was waking up in Portiuncula Hospital.

The court heard she had suffered a bleed to the brain and a doctor told her mother, Hilary O'Donnell, there was a chance she would have to be transferred to Beaumont Hospital in Dublin, the national neurosurgical centre.

She remained in Portiuncula for nine days in a neck brace where she suffered severe headaches and was unable to bear light much.

Her mother, who travelled to hospital in the ambulance with her and kept talking to her so she would not lose consciousness again, said when she was being discharged from Portiuncula, a doctor told them there was a chance Millie would not be able to play sport at the same level again.  She might also need one-to-one tuition at school, her mother said she was told

Distressed by this, the O'Donnells made an appointment with a consultant at Beaumont who reassured them she would make a full recovery but advised her to take it easy initially when she did return to playing hockey.

Garda David Turner, Athlone, who arrived on the shore where the RIB had now been tied up, said Mr Coffey was wet and upset and kept saying:  "I killed Millie, I killed Millie, I'm sorry".

In a statement to the garda later by Mr Coffey, he said as he approached he bridge he was surprised by a mooring buoy in the water and tried to miss it but in an effort to correct the boat he hit the pillar.

Rob Corcoran, the son of the RIB owner Brian Corcoran, in his statement to gardai, said he gave the keys to Mr Coffey to make the journey to pick up the second RIB because he (Rob) "had had a few drinks".   He said Richard Coffey was not drunk although he had had some drink, "he was fine".

In his evidence to the court, Mr Coffey said Rob Corcoran did not want to drive the boat because he Rob was "having too much crack" where he was.

Mr Coffey said he had driven RIBS before and knew that part of the river though would not say he was familiar with it.   When he saw the buoy, he swerved "and before I knew it we had crashed".

The case was adjourned to later this month for legal submissions.

Online Editors

Promoted Links

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Promoted Links

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News