'It's an awful blight -- there is a dark cloud over us'
A TIGHT-KNIT Kerry community awoke yesterday to a scene of heartbreak and utter devastation.
In the space of less than 10 seconds, a bright end to the summer tourism season in Killarney was transformed into a black pall of tragedy as four youngsters became the latest victims of road carnage.
At Carrigeen-Crosstown, on the Killarney-Barraduff road, all that was left of the 10-year old Hyundai Accent was hardly recognisable as a car at all.
A short drive along a familiar road for five Killarney teens had suddenly ended in the spectre of yet more funerals.
The Hyundai spun out of control on a sweeping bend on the N72 road, careered down an embankment and struck a large tree side-on.
Yesterday the shattered vehicle was bent, almost banana-like, around the tree, parts of which had penetrated the car's cabin.
The silver saloon was destroyed on impact. The field into which it ploughed was covered with shattered debris that bore mute witness to the sheer scale of the horror.
Glass, clothing and blood- spattered airbags lay strewn across the ground.
By mid-afternoon, wreaths and floral tributes were placed on the roadside by shocked neighbours, friends and relatives.
Trevor and Nikita O'Connell, friends of the victims' families, fought back tears as they laid the first wreath.
Three youngsters -- including brothers David (17) and Kevin Breen (15) -- died at the scene alongside Aine O'Riordan (15).
A fourth teen, Brian Coffey (19), died just over four hours later in Tralee General Hospital (TGH) after losing his courageous battle for life.
A fifth passenger in the car -- a 16 -year-old boy -- was fighting for his life last night in TGH.
Killarney priest Fr Kevin McNamara had helped families cope with tragedy before, but had never seen anything like this. "It was utter devastation -- I got a call at 7.30am to go out there," he said.
"It was when I reached (the scene) there was two who were alive -- and were taken to Tralee General Hospital. The fire brigade were working unbelievably hard to get the three out from the back seat.
"The first youngster that came out (of the car) was pronounced dead straight away. The second came out -- it was another teenager. The terrible shock then was that we discovered they were actually brothers," he added.
"They were then trying to resuscitate the girl -- and it was just awful to see really. After a short time, she was pronounced dead at the scene as well," he added.
John O'Sullivan operates a successful Mazda dealership less than a mile from where the tragedy occurred.
"It was a terrible shock -- I arrived in to work this morning to hear that three (later four) young lives had been lost. It is a bit of a tricky bend but I wouldn't say the road was notorious or anything. There have been a few accidents along here but they were all fairly minor," he said.
Local man Sean O'Connor passes the spot on a daily basis.
"I live just down the road and there was a priest killed there about 30 years ago," he said.
"The problem with the road is that even though the slope is with you as you are coming, it tends to throw the car a bit. Some bends bring you around them, but that one you have to drive around.
"That is a dangerous bend," he said.
Killarney's deputy chief fire officer Michael Flynn said everything was done at the scene to help the victims.
"There were four male occupants and one female occupant in the car. All five had to be cut free from the wreckage by the fire service," he said.
Emergency service officials admitted it was one of the worst crashes in the county in living memory.
The mayor of Killarney, Donal O'Grady, said the entire community was numbed by the sheer scale of the loss of life.
"It is an awful blight on the entire area -- there is a dark cloud over the whole town," he said.