Wednesday 12 December 2018

Young driver of car that exploded in 'fireball' crash more than four times over alcohol limit, inquest hears

The scene of the crash on the N72 and inset, driver Eamon Dixon
The scene of the crash on the N72 and inset, driver Eamon Dixon

Ralph Riegel

THE young driver of a car in which three men died when it exploded in a fireball after colliding with a vehicle carrying a family of six to a Christmas festival was more than four times over the alcohol limit.

A Waterford coroner's inquest heard that the driver of an eleven year old Volkswagen Golf, Eamon Dixon (22), had a blood alcohol concentration of 221mg - more than four times the legal limit - as well as having traces of cocaine and other drugs in his system.

Mr Dixon's friends, Kenneth O'Sullivan (39) and Michael Tobin (38), died alongside the young driver when the Golf crossed onto the wrong side of the road on the N72 outside Dungarvan, Co Waterford on December 4 2016.

The inquest heard that Mr Dixon from Abbeyside, Dungarvan was "off his head" that day on drink, according to Mr Dixon's father, Darren Foley, who had spoken to him earlier that day.

Eamon Dixon, who died in the horror Waterford crash
Eamon Dixon, who died in the horror Waterford crash

Seconds before the horrific collision, the Golf overtook another car at speed and glanced off it, tearing off its wing mirror.

Another man, Patrick Murray, said he accepted a lift in the Volkswagen in Dungarvan and was terrified when he realised the condition of the occupants.

The car drove on the wrong side of the road past Dungarvan Garda Station and Mr Murray insisted on getting out.

"I pulled the handbrake....I was scared for my own safety. I just got out."

When the car occupants tried to persuade him to get back in, he told them to "F*** Off."

Later Mr Murray tried to persuade the young men to get out of the car themselves but they sped off.

All three young men suffered horrific injuries to their skulls, hearts, lungs, livers, spines and spleens and died almost instantaneously after the collision on the N72 or Military Road in Dungarvan.

The stretch of road, used as a bypass of Dungarvan town, is noted for its undulations and restricted visibility.

The Golf exploded in a fireball after the impact and all three men were burned beyond recognition.

The three friends later had to be identified from DNA samples.

Waterford Coroner Dr Eoin Maughan heard that the Golf being driven by Mr Dixon ploughed into a Citroen C4 carrying Mary Bermingham, her four children aged from seven to 15 years, and her partner, Gary Fenton.

The Cork family were taking the children to see Santa Claus at a Waterford Christmas festival.

Other motorists came across the collision and desperately tried to help.

The doors on the Citroen were jammed shut by the damage and Ms Bermingham and her children were pleading for rescue.

Mr Fenton, who was driving, was unconscious.

Ms Bermingham said she saw another vehicle pass the scene and fail to stop.

"I remember thinking who would pass the scene of an accident and not stop to help," she said.

Ms Bermingham said that she became concerned when onlookers were unable to get her family out of the wrecked people carrier and she could smell smoke coming from the burning Volkswagen.

"Are you going to leave us here to die," she pleaded at the scene?

All six were successfully removed from the wrecked vehicle and transferred by ambulance and helicopter to Cork University Hospital (CUH) an University Hospital Waterford (UHW).

All have since made successful recoveries.

Deputy State Pathologist Dr Michael Curtis said all three men died from multiple catastrophic injuries consistent with being involved in a road traffic collision at speed.

Mr Tobin was from Abbeyside in Dungarvan while Mr O'Sullivan was from Seminary Road in Cork

Garda Ruth Finn, a forensic traffic investigator, said it was impossible to determine the speed at which the Golf was being driven.

However, she noted that the Golf pushed the Citroen back by 16 metres on the roadway despite the fact the Vokswagen was 300kg lighter fully laden than the French people carrier.

Such was the intensity of the fireball which consumed the car that even nearby trees and ditches were charred.

The Waterford inquest jury returned verdicts of accident death for all three men.

Dr Maughan warned that driving a vehicle while under the influence of drugs or alcohol was akin to treating it like a loaded weapon.

"The message is that if you are under the influence of alcohol or drugs you should not get behind the wheel," he said.

Dr Maughan welcomed the Garda crackdown on drug driving and said it was "very welcome" given the apparent indications of the number of people getting behind the wheel while under the influence of drugs.

He described the case as "very, very tragic" but paid tribute to the Waterford emergency services who, he said, had helped prevent further loss of life that day because of their skill and professionalism.

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