Thursday 19 July 2018

Tragic fire victim Grace McDermott died from carbon monoxide poisoning after series of unfortunate events, inquest hears

'My abiding memory is roaring Grace's name. She was the nicest girl you could ever meet'

Scene of the fire in Limerick and inset Grace McDermott
Scene of the fire in Limerick and inset Grace McDermott

David Raleigh

An inquest into the death of a DCU lecturer heard she died due to carbon monoxide poisoning during a house fire in Limerick.

Tragic Grace McDermott, (26), had travelled to Limerick from her home in Dublin to take part in the Great Limerick Run on April 30, 2017.

Limerick Coroner’s Court heard, how, having lost her hotel room keycard, she stayed at a friend’s house after unexpectedly bumping into him while out socialising after the race.

The fatal fire occurred at The Oaks, Riverbank, Annacotty, in the early hours of May 1, 2017.

The court heard the cause of the fire was likely due to a lamp accidentally falling over onto a couch in the bedroom where Ms McDermott slept.

The lamp, the court heard, was missing its base and was resting against the couch.

Garda Sergeant Dave Bourke, a Scenes of Crime officer attached to Henry Street garda station, said the “initial focus” of the garda investigation into the fire centred around a laptop charger discovered in the room following the fire, however this was later discounted.

The investigation switched to the lamp, but he added: “We found no evidence of a lamp”.

Fire victim Grace McDermott
Fire victim Grace McDermott

It was accepted by all parties the lamp could have been destroyed in the fire, or “torn” off by the force of water used by firefighters to douse the flames.

Paul Collins, a forensic scientist, who carried out a flammable field test on the partially destroyed couch, agreed under questioning from solicitor Cian O’Carroll, representing the McDermott family, that if the sofa had been compliant with the highest fire safety standards, it may not have occurred.

Limerick Coroner John McNamara said the only verdict he could return was an “accidental death”.

He said a number of unfortunate events had led to Ms McDermott staying at her friend’s house after she had become separated from another friend whom she had traveled to Limerick from Dublin and had planned to stay with in the hotel.

“A series of events transpired which unfortunately led to Grace being in the house where a lamp had fallen over, and it would appear, was the catalyst for the fire,” he said.

The room was fitted with a fire-door, the court heard.

Mr McNamara said he intended to contact the Department of the Environment, recommending smoke detectors be fitted in every bedroom of every new home in the future, as a mandatory safety measure.

“I don't know how practical it is…but I don't think it would be a high price to pay to save some lives,” he said.

“Fire-doors prevent (fires) escaping, but when someone is in the room, it's giving them no chance,” he added.

Four others were in the house at the time of the fire but all four escaped uninjured.

Cathal Sheridan, a friend of Ms McDermott’s, who invited her back to the house, described how he attempted to rescue her but was held back by his fellow housemates.

“My abiding memory is roaring Grace’s name. She was the nicest girl you could ever meet; the smartest, most intelligent girl," Mr Sheridan said.

Ms McDemott’s father Robert, and her fiancé, Colin O’Neill, attended the inquest.

Mr O’Neill, from Portmarnock, told the court gardai gave him back the engagement ring he had presented to his beloved wife-to-be, following her tragic death.

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