Thursday 22 August 2019

Teenager who died in crash was not wearing a seatbelt - trial hears

Caitlin Taylor (14) was killed in the crash. Sarah O'Connell fom Mallow, Co Cork pictured at Tralee Circuit Criminal Court (Picture: Macmonagle, Killarney)
Caitlin Taylor (14) was killed in the crash. Sarah O'Connell fom Mallow, Co Cork pictured at Tralee Circuit Criminal Court (Picture: Macmonagle, Killarney)

Anne Lucey

A teenager who died in a crash involving a car in which she was a front seat passenger "had not been wearing a safety belt".

Caitlin Taylor (14) had taken off her seat belt when she dropped her mobile phone in the front car well, and had not re-fastened it, the Circuit Criminal Court in Tralee heard.

It was the second day of the trial of a woman for driving without due care and attention.

The crash occurred on the Cork-Kerry border on July 15, 2014.

The driver of the car, an older friend, was a learner driver unaccompanied, the trial before a jury of seven women and five men heard.

Caitlin Taylor of Gouldshill, Mallow, Co Cork had asked her friend Sarah O’Connell, then aged 20, to drive her to Scartaglen that Sunday evening when they met in a shop in Mallow, Ms O'Connell had told gardai.

Sarah O’Connell, of Sean Moylan Park, Mallow, Co Cork, denies a charge of careless driving causing the death of Ms Taylor at Knockeenahone, Scartaglen.

They left Mallow around 9.30 pm and were 60 km into their journey and just 5 km from Scartaglen when Ms O’Connell failed to take a bend, went over a ramp-like mound and the car dropped two metres into a low lying field.

The incident occurred around 11pm.

Ms O’Connell was a learner driver, she did not have L plates, she was unaccompanied and had been driving about 8 months at the time. She was fully insured and the car was taxed and in good order and had its NCT. She was not speeding. She has not driven since the accident, the trial was told.

Ms Taylor was found 20 ft from the badly damaged car.

She died immediately from fractured skull and upper spinal chord injury sustained in the road traffic accident, according to the autopsy  findings of assistant State Pathologist Dr Margot Bolster, read to the jury, by Tom Rice prosecuting counsel.

Ms Taylor’s family left the court during the pathologist’s evidence.

Neither woman had alcohol or drugs and it was most likely that Ms O’Connell too had not been wearing a safety belt at the time, the trial was told.

Also in the car was the 18-month-old daughter of Sarah O’Connell. She was found, unharmed, and still strapped into her booster seat around 11.30 pm.

Garda James O’Brien, who is also the vehicle inspector, was on the scene at 12.30 am, just over an hour after it occurred, told how they gardai sealed off the cattle from the scene.

The road surface was dry.

There were county council cones at the point where the car entered the field, as the council intended carrying out signage and remedial work, but the work had not yet started.

The Yaris had been travelling in or around the speed limit of 80km an hour, and Ms O’Connell had not been breaking the speed limit, he deduced.

"She was not beyond the speed limit," Garda O'Brien told Mr Rice.

The car had travelled across the mound  which acted like a ramp, dropped two metres into the field, went "head-over-heels" or somersaulted a number of times before landing 16 metres into the sloping field.

Ms Taylor had been thrown from the vehicle in the course of the tumble and the airbags had not held her slight frame, Garda O’Brien said.

Ms O’Connell suffered fractures to her lower back, her shoulder was dislocated and she and her child were taken by ambulance to Kerry General Hospital.

Ms O’Connell’s prepared statement and subsequent interview of August 2014 were read to Garda  Declan Leader by prosecuting counsel Tom Rice.

Ms O’Connell said she remembered how Caitlin had taken off her safety belt to retrieve her phone which had fallen and had not put her safety belt back on.

She had known Ms Taylor for two years, "she hangs around with the same people" as herself, Ms O’Connell said.

That Sunday evening when she went to Foley’s shop in Mallow, she met Caitlin Taylor.

"She wanted a lift to Scartaglen. She said she wanted to meet a fellow. She did not tell me who he was," Ms O’Connell said.

They had stopped in Ballydesmond when Caitlin said she wanted to put on make-up. Before the accident Caitlin’s phone had rung and she had dropped it.

She took off her belt to retrieve her phone and had not put the seat belt back on before the accident which happened very soon afterwards, Ms O’Connell said in her statement.

Asked if she had a full licence she said she did not, and she was not displaying L plates, or accompanied by a qualified driver.

Ms O’Connell was a learner driver and had got her provisional licence 8 months previously and had taken 10 lessons. She was not used to night driving. 

A single mum, living with her parents, she helped in her parents horse rearing business. 

She believed she had hit a pot hole but was not certain.

When gardaí put it to her if it was possible that she had been distracted by Caitlin dropping her phone and taking off her safety belt, she  said this was a possibility.

Civil proceeding are being taken, Mark Nichols, defence SC said. 

The trial has also been told how the late Ms Taylor’s family did not speak to Ms O’Connell at the funeral.

Dazed and distraught at the scene, and concerned for her friend, Ms O’Connell  was seeing a counsellor and was getting flashbacks and not been sleeping after the accident, the trial was also told .

Closing speeches are being heard and Judge Thomas O’Donnell is to charge the jury on Thursday.

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