Wednesday 17 October 2018

Tourist who died cycling in Kerry would likely never have attempted route if there were better warning signs - daughters say

Tragedy: Mother Janet Price was killed in horror accident
Tragedy: Mother Janet Price was killed in horror accident
Ralph Riegel

Ralph Riegel

THE DAUGHTERS of a US tourist killed in a Gap of Dunloe cycling tragedy have warned that the mother of two would likely never have attempted the steep Kerry descent had proper warning signs been in place.

The plea came as a Kerry Coroner's inquest returned a verdict of accidental death for mother of two and grandmother Janet Price (69), who died last year when she came off a bicycle near a notorious bend on the Gap of Dunloe descent not far from Kate Kearney's Cottage.

Coroner Aisling Quilter and the inquest jury issued a recommendation that adequate warning signs now be erected at the Kerry beauty spot to alert all road users to the steep descent and sharp bends.

The bend where Mrs Price came off her bike and skidded underneath a jeep and trailer carrying lambs involved a sharp 140 degree bend - but there was no warning sign on approach to the severe mountain turn.

Last April, two US tourists, Normand Larose (62) and Joy Few (64), died in a separate and unrelated accident when the jaunting car they were travelling in plunged down a ravine in the Gap of Dunloe after a horse seemingly took fright and then lost its footing.

Mr Larose's inquest was opened and closed with evidence that he died from blunt force trauma injuries to his skull and brain caused by a fall onto rocks from a pony and trap.

Jennifer and Erika Price pictured arriving at Killarney Courthouse for the inquest into the death of their mother Janet Photo: Don MacMonagle
Jennifer and Erika Price pictured arriving at Killarney Courthouse for the inquest into the death of their mother Janet Photo: Don MacMonagle

Mrs Price's daughter, Erika, accompanied to the Killarney inquest by her sister, Jennifer, said her mother was not an experienced cyclist and would likely never have attempted the descent had she known about the severe descent and bends.

"I think if they had been warned that it was not for beginner cyclists they might not have gone," she told Independent.ie

"People should know what they are getting into.

"But ultimately we are all individuals and we are all responsible for what we put ourselves into.

"It sounds like something (better warning signs) that should have happened a long time ago," she said.

"One of those guys (Gardaí) testified that while he was on the road he saw somebody, an experienced cyclist, having trouble negotiating that bend with that quantity of traffic.

"There should be more information out there about the kind of cycling you do there.

"No, she (her mother) never biked.

"I think it would be reasonable (to alert people).

"No - I don't think anyone will ever know (precisely what happened)."

Erika welcomed the safety recommendation about new road signage from the coroner and inquest jury.

"That was our main goal here today - for greater safety on the road," she said.

"He (Don Theiler, her mother's husband) is coming back here to Kerry to express that gratitude (for the support shown the heartbroken family). I think it (a special memorial bench) is going to be near a parking lot at the start of the trail. They don't want to create a distraction near the bend and cause more issues."

Erica said she was too emotional after the inquest to describe her mother.

"That would be too hard right now," she said.

With her sister, she confirmed she plans to visit the Gap of Dunloe and pay tribute to her mother at the exact spot where she died.

Mrs Price was on a dream holiday in Ireland on May 30 2017 with her husband, Don Theiler (75), and their friend, Roy Christiansen.

The American trio rented bikes in Killarney, went on a boat trip to Ross Castle and then began the cycle from Kate Kearney's Cottage back to Killarney around 3pm.

Garda Ray Sweeney, a forensic traffic expert, said the descent could in places potentially see bikes reach a freewheel speed of 37kmh.

There were no warning signs on the approach to the 140 degree bend where Mrs Price came off her bike.

Don Theiler, in a sworn statement, said his wife had cycled ahead of him and, when he came to the bend, he was horrified to see her lying on the road, partially underneath a trailer being pulled by a Toyota jeep.

The Toyota driver, Donnachadh Tagney, said his jeep was at a crawl as it approached the steep bend carrying a trailer full of sheep and lambs.

He saw a cyclist coming down the hill extremely fast.

"I knew at the speed she was travelling she would not take the bend. (But) there was no impact with my vehicle."

Another motorist, James O'Connor, said the cyclist and her bike did not strike the jeep ahead of him.

Both men immediately alerted emergency services when Mrs Price came off her bike.

Garda experts including Garda Sweeney and Garda James O'Brien said it was impossible to say if Mrs Price struck the side of the trailer or came off her bike and skidded along the roadway underneath the trailer.

There was a significant amount of blood at the scene.

Despite desperate efforts at the scene by an Australian doctor on holiday in Ireland to help Mrs Price, assisted by Mr Theiler and a passing nurse, the grandmother was later pronounced dead at the scene.

Assistant State Pathologist Dr Margaret Bolster found Mrs Price died from blunt force trauma injuries to her chest which caused rib fractures and damage to her lungs, pulmonary veins and liver.

In response to a question from the Price family, she said it was possible the injuries involved were consistent with "a rollover type incident."

"I could not rule it out," she said.

Gardaí stressed that tests showed the Toyota jeep, trailer and the bike involved were all in mechanically perfect condition.

However, the force of the accident resulted in the front wheel of Mrs Price's bike being buckled.

Mr Theiler now wants enhanced road safety measures in the Gap of Dunloe which, despite being a narrow and winding road, has heavy traffic from locals, cyclists, tour buses, hikers and jaunting cars.

He has written to Transport Minister Shane Ross on the issue and to Kerry County Council.

Mr Theiler will visit Ireland in September  to unveil a special memorial to Mrs Price,.

He said it was clear that safety measures needed to be implemented.

He said the two calls he had to make to Mrs Price's daughters, Erika and Jennifer, were "the most difficult of my life."

He said he doesn't want anyone else to now suffer their loss.

"It is a very narrow road. There is a tremendous amount of people on that road. There is a limited amount of signage that I think is not adequate," he said.

"I was promised things would happen and there is no reason why this could have happened soon after Janet's death. I keep being told something will be done after the inquest is held."

Mr Theiler said his family and friends believe a bench would now be a fitting memorial to Mrs Price.

"We would like to set up a bench so family members can go back and other people can be aware of what happened," he said.

"It's something I have to live with every day but you have to keep on living. I'm trying to make the most of a bad situation."

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