Tuesday 18 June 2019

Woman who lost her entire family in horrific collision says she prays daily for other driver, inquest hears

Four members of Irish-American family died after attempting to do U-turn on busy road

Pictured: The Alexander family, including Doug Sr, Lily, Doug Jr and Stephen
Pictured: The Alexander family, including Doug Sr, Lily, Doug Jr and Stephen

Ralph Riegel

AN AMERICAN woman who lost her entire family in a horrific Wexford collision just days before Christmas said the truck driver involved remains in their daily prayers.

The revelation came as a New Ross coroner's inquest heard today that a hire car carrying four members of the Alexander family from Chicago pulled out directly in front of an articulated lorry in a bid to perform a U-turn on the busy N25 road - leaving the shocked truck driver with no chance to avoid a catastrophic impact.

Coroner Dr Sean Nixon was told that the BMW 520 car, being driven by Douglas Alexander Jnr, was attempting the U-turn as it followed the car of an Irish relative after both had apparently missed a turn-off en route to a family funeral in Wexford.

Police officer Stephen Alexander, 49, his parents Lily Ryan-Alexander and Douglas, both 75, and his brother Douglas Jnr, 52, were all killed when their BMW saloon collided with a lorry on the N25 at on the New Ross to Ballinaboule road at Begern at around 6.30pm on Monday, December 4 2017.

The Alexanders, a proud Irish-American family based in Chicago, had travelled to Ireland that morning to attend the funeral of Ms Ryan-Alexander’s sister, Winifred, in New Ross.

Debbie Alexander Cegerlak, who remained in the US with her two children that day, lost both her parents and her two brothers in the horrific accident.

All four died from catastrophic injuries as the Scania truck driven by Paul Caulfield was unable to avoid an impact when the BMW pulled out directly in front of it.

The collision was so horrific that, at one point, the BMW was partially underneath the front of the truck.

Wexford road crash victims Doug Alexander and Lily Alexander
Wexford road crash victims Doug Alexander and Lily Alexander

Garda Robert Carty said, on arriving at the scene, he initially thought only a truck had been involved with the car wedged into and under the front of the lorry.

Supt John McDonald, who attended the scene that December 4 evening, said it was "a very, very sad accident and very tragic loss."

The coroner, Garda and Alexander family paid tribute to the desperate efforts of the Wexford emergency services to help the four injured Americans - and the courage shown by New Ross nurse, Grace O'Sullivan, who stopped her car as she travelled past and administered first aid to the stricken passengers.

The nurse said she got "an enormous fright" when she shone a light into the car in a bid to assist the occupants such were the appalling scale of the injuries.

All four died at the scene from what were described as catastrophic injuries by University Hospital Waterford (UHW) pathologist Dr Nigam Shah.

Death was instantaneous in all four cases.

New Ross priest, Fr Roger O'Neill, was also passing and stopped at the accident scene to administer the last rites to the dying BMW occupants.

Garda forensic accident scene investigator, Tom Bulger, said the BMW had driven out directly in front of the truck with the lorry travelling at 70kmh, some 10kmh below the speed limit.

"The truck driver (Mr Caulfield) did not have the time or the distance to avoid a collision," Garda Bulger said.

Dr Nixon was told the Alexanders were following the vehicle of an Irish relative as they travelled in convoy to a local family funeral.

Both believed they had missed a turn-off to the funeral - and had pulled over to the side of the N25 to retrace their route back towards New Ross.

Mr Caulfield was driving the Scania truck with a passenger, Kevin Collins, en route to the UK via Rosslare.

Mr Collins told the inquest he saw the tragic collision occur.

"It pulled out foolishly (from the left) and did a U-turn. Paul said: 'Jesus Christ' and then flashed his lights. The BMW 5 series did the same thing and pulled out in front of us. Paul had no time to react," Mr Collins said.

Mr Caulfield said he slammed hard on his brakes, desperately tried to avoid a collision as his lorry jack-knifed.

The BMW struck the lorry's front side-on and both ploughed into a roadside crash barrier.

"All I saw were lights. I slammed the brakes hard and we hit," the truck driver said.

Dr Nixon said the American driver of the BMW was at a disadvantage that dark, wet winter evening.

"The driver of the car (Douglas Alexander Jnr) was at a major disadvantage," Dr Nixon said.

"They had travelled from Chicago the previous night. They did not have a lot of rest.

"The driver was used to driving on the other side of the road.

"Pulling out the way he did he might have expected the danger to come from the other side."

In a special message read out on behalf of Debbie Alexander Cegerlak and Stephen Alexander's wife, Lynn, solicitor Caroline McLaughlin said the devastated family remain grateful for the heroic efforts of the emergency services to save their loved ones.

"I express on their behalf their sincere gratitude to all who came to the assistance of their family in the immediate aftermath of the accident," she said.

Special tribute was paid to the Gardaí, New Ross fire brigade, paramedics and motorists who stopped to help.

"To (nurse) Grace O'Sullivan, it is a source of great comfort to the family to know the care afforded by you and the bravery you showed under such difficult circumstances and they are eternally grateful to you.

"To Fr O'Neill, it is also a source of great comfort to the family to know that the Sacraments were administered and that their family were blessed at the scene of the accident.

"They have also asked that I express to the driver of the lorry, Mr Caulfield, and his passenger, Mr Collins, that there is not a day that goes by they do not think of you and how difficult the incident must have been for you to encounter.

"They wish you health and happiness and pray that this accident will not cause you any difficulties into the future."

The jury returned a verdict of accidental death due to catastrophic injuries sustained in a road traffic collision.

Stephen Alexander was a decorated Bolingbrook Police Department officer.

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