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SUV driver made 83 mobile calls before fatal crash

An SUV driver who crashed into a rental car killing a 51-year-old American travel agent was barefoot and possibly using a handheld phone at the time of the fatal impact, an inquest was told yesterday.

The Coroner's Court heard that the SUV driver, Declan Gallagher, had made 83 mobile phone calls between Maynooth, Co Kildare, and the scene of the accident near Swinford, Co Mayo.

Rental car driver Annette Jean Scott, from Jackson, Wyoming, was pronounced dead at the scene a short time after the accident at Ballymiles, near Swinford, on the evening of May 29, 2009.

Ms Scott's travelling companion, Chris Burnside, from Driggs, Idaho, was injured but has made a full recovery.

Both women, who worked for Aspen Travel based in Jackson, Wyoming, were holidaying in Ireland when their hired car was struck by an SUV driven by Gallagher, of The Green, Moyglare, Maynooth.

A third car was also involved in the accident -- which occurred on the N5 main Dublin to Westport road -- but the occupants were not seriously injured.

At an inquest yesterday in Castlebar into Ms Scott's death, a number of witnesses gave evidence that Gallagher wasn't wearing any socks or shoes when he stepped from his jeep after the impact.

Sergeant Richard Taheny said mobile phone records showed that Gallagher had made 83 calls between Maynooth and the accident scene. The phone records suggested that at the time of the impact, or very close to it, Gallagher had been using the mobile which was a handheld unit.

Gallagher denied to gardai that he was using the phone at the actual time of the accident. He said he could only recall talking to his five-year-old son, who was with him, and then his vehicle veering across the road.

There was no way Ms Scott could have avoided a collision, the coroner John O'Dwyer was told.

Mr O'Dwyer outlined to the inquest that Gallagher had pleaded guilty at the Circuit Criminal Court last July to dangerous driving causing death.

Judge Raymond Groarke imposed a three-year prison sentence suspended for three years on condition that there were no breaches of the Road Traffic Act. Gallagher was also banned from driving for 10 years.

Medical evidence was given to the inquest that Ms Scott died as a result of multiple soft tissue and skeletal injuries due to a road traffic accident.

The jury returned a verdict of accidental death.

Irish Independent