Wednesday 18 September 2019

Tragic crash teen took off her seatbelt to search for phone

Caitlin Taylor took off her seatbelt after dropping her phone
Caitlin Taylor took off her seatbelt after dropping her phone

Anne Lucey

A teenager who died when she was thrown from a car had taken off her seatbelt moments before the crash to pick up her mobile phone after she had dropped it.

The Circuit Criminal Court in Tralee, Co Kerry, heard Caitlin Taylor (14) had not re-fastened her seatbelt before the car she was a passenger in plunged into a low-lying field.

The driver of the car, Sarah O'Connell, denies a charge of careless driving causing the death of Caitlin on June 15, 2014, at Knockeenahone, Scartaglen, Co Kerry.

The court heard that Ms O'Connell, of Sean Moylan Park, Mallow, Co Cork, was an older friend of Caitlin's. She was a learner driver and was unaccompanied by a qualified driver at the time of the crash.

Sarah O’Connell denies that careless driving caused death. Picture: Macmonagle, Kerry
Sarah O’Connell denies that careless driving caused death. Picture: Macmonagle, Kerry

Caitlin, of Gouldshill, Mallow, Co Cork, had asked Ms O'Connell, then aged 20, to drive her to Scartaglen when they met in a shop in Mallow, the court heard.

They left Mallow at around 9.30pm and were 5km 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 before tumbling several times. Caitlin was thrown from the vehicle.

Ms O'Connell had been driving for about eight months at the time. She was fully insured and the car was taxed and in good order and had passed an NCT.

She was not speeding. She has not driven since the accident, the trial was told.

A post-mortem found Caitlin died immediately from a fractured skull and an upper spinal chord injury.

Neither woman had taken alcohol or drugs and it was most likely that Ms O'Connell had also not been wearing a seatbelt at the time, the trial was told.

Also in the car was Ms O'Connell's 18-month-old daughter, Sophie. She was found unharmed and still strapped into her booster seat.

Garda forensic examiner James O'Brien said the car, a grey Toyota Yaris, went straight across the road, instead of taking a medium bend, and plunged two metres into a low-lying field. It tumbled a number of times.

The road surface at the time was dry and the court heard there were traffic cones at the point where the car entered the field. The county council intended carrying out signage and remedial work, but the work had not yet started.

The car had been travelling in or around the speed limit of 80kmh. "[Ms O'Connell] was not beyond the speed limit," Garda O'Brien told the prosecution.

Caitlin was thrown from the vehicle in the course of the tumble and the airbags had not held her slight frame, Gda O'Brien said.

Ms O'Connell suffered fractures to her lower back and her shoulder was dislocated.

The court heard details of a prepared statement made by Ms O'Connell and a subsequent interview she had with gardaí in August 2014.

She said she met Caitlin at Foley's shop in Mallow that evening.

"She wanted a lift to Scartaglen. She said she wanted to meet a fella. 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 crash Caitlin's phone had rung and she had dropped it. She took off her seatbelt to get it and had not put it back on before the crash, which happened soon afterwards, Ms O'Connell said in her statement.

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

When gardaí asked her if it was possible she had been distracted by Caitlin dropping her phone and taking off her seatbelt, she said this was a possibility.

The case continues.

Irish Independent

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