Tuesday 24 April 2018

'I had to make the two most difficult calls in my life' - US tourist on the moment his wife died in Kerry cycle accident

Tourist calls for major reform on the country's popular cycleways and trails

Tragedy: Mother Janet Price was killed in horror accident
Tragedy: Mother Janet Price was killed in horror accident
Wayne O'Connor

Wayne O'Connor

When Don Theiler came to visit Ireland in May with his wife Janet Price he never considered returning home without her.

The trip was part of a plan to spend their retirement travelling the world. The couple were due to fly home to Washington State, on America's East Coast, via Iceland. Instead, Don flew home carrying Janet's ashes in an urn after a cycling accident in Kerry. She died rounding a dangerous bend in the Gap of Dunloe.

Don (75) was travelling 30 yards behind her when she disappeared around a sharp corner half a mile from Kate Kearney's Cottage. By the time he took the turn she was dead. The 69-year-old had collided with a trailer carrying lambs up the valley. She was killed instantly.

"It was certainly the worst moment of my life," Don told the Sunday Independent last week. "When I got to her, her eyes were open, staring. She never responded to any stimulus. Blood was coming out of her mouth and nose but I didn't see any visible injuries on her body.

"I then had to make the two most difficult calls I will ever make in my life, to her daughters Jennifer and Erica."

Don is campaigning to make Irish roads safer for cyclists because Janet's death has changed their lives and had a huge impact on her four grandchildren. "She just disappeared from their lives."

Read more: 'You were there at the worst moment of my life' - Tourist pays tribute to locals and gardaí after wife killed at beauty spot

He has written to Transport Minister Shane Ross and called for a number of changes, such as introducing extra signage and mirrors at dangerous points on the road.

He also wants non-residents to be banned from driving on some of the country's most popular tourist trails, including the Gap.

"A road like that has blind spots everywhere. I think in an area like that they must prohibit non-resident vehicles and limit it only to residents, bikers, hikers and horse-drawn carts."

Thousands of hillwalkers and cyclists visit the area every summer, drawn by the remote location and scenery.

Residents and farmers from the Gap drive on the narrow twisting road every day but in the summer months it can also be clogged with people who are unfamiliar with the roads.

Don said a gate could be installed at a site close to Kate Kearney's Cottage at the mouth of the valley to prevent traffic building up. He said tourists could then explore the area on foot, bike, horseback or by paying a jarvey for a tour.

This year has already been one of the most dangerous in recent memory for bikers on Irish roads. The 11 cyclists killed in the first six months of 2017 equals the total for all of last year.

"That is six more than the same period last year," Road Safety Authority CEO Moyagh Murdock told the Sunday Independent last week.

She said road users, including cyclists, need to be cautious and aware of vulnerable road users and how they behave on the road. "Drivers need to pay greater attention to their speed, as drivers are becoming increasingly distracted by mobile devices and they are also speeding in our towns and cities.

"Cyclists too have a responsibility to make sure they follow the rules of the road and make sure that motorists can see them by using their lights and wearing a helmet and high-visibility clothing."

However, there is no suggestion that speed, distraction or lighting played a role in Janet's death so Don is calling for robust action to be taken. He said the support he had received from locals in Killarney has made him more determined to see conditions improved.

"If this had happened in the US, I would not have been treated as well as I was in Killarney. The police went above and beyond anything I have ever seen to help us. They brought us to the accident site, drove us to Cork after the cremation to retrieve Janet's ashes and brought us to the airport."

He said he was determined to come back and bring Janet's grandchildren with him.

Sunday Independent

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