Sunday 17 December 2017

Man high on cocaine and booze drowned while hiding from police - inquest

Michael McHugh

A man high on cocaine and drink following a late night party drowned in the River Lagan in Northern Ireland while hiding from police, an inquest heard.

Oran Rodgers, 28, had been snorting the drug in his hotel room at the Ramada Belfast near Shaw`s Bridge last November during a champagne and vodka-fuelled weekend away to celebrate his new fiancee`s birthday.

Hotel managers called officers because of the noise and Mr Rodgers, facing alleged unrelated charges of disorderly behaviour at another hotel and in breach of his bail conditions, panicked and disappeared towards the pitch-black river bank near the Lock Keeper`s Cottage.

Trevor O`Brien was eating a takeaway in a nearby car park with his girlfriend and saw the outline of a figure jogging past then heard screams.

"I could see arms thrashing about in the water, more shouts for help just under the footbridge," he told the Belfast hearing.

He raced back to his car, turned its headlights on the river and got a tow rope. By the time he and his girlfriend Lisa Blyth returned they could only see a trainer, floating in the water.

"The person had disappeared and I thought they clambered out somewhere," he said.

"I was extremely shocked and upset about what happened and not being able to help more at the time."

He is receiving counselling for his ordeal.

Mr Rodgers, a plasterer from Lisheeghan Lane near Ballymoney, arrived at the hotel for a two-night break to celebrate the birthday of his girlfriend Jane Brown with some friends. He had been drinking heavily, following an evening at the Precious nightclub in the Odyssey centre in east Belfast.

The group of three couples went back to a room and had a party, continuing to drink. One of the women, Stacey Evans, said Mr Rodgers had been snorting white powder. Chief pathologist professor Jack Crane found cocaine and alcohol equivalent to three times the drink driving limit in his system.

The night manager at the Ramada, Stephen McFerran, asked the resident couples to leave after they were noisy and he received complaints from other guests. The two men were abusive, he said.

Mr Rodgers over-reacted, afraid that he would be found in breach of his bail conditions by police and disappeared outside the hotel before they arrived, his fiancee of two weeks Jane Brown said. He did not seem agitated, she added.

Mr Rodgers was on bail accused of assaulting woman police constable Leigh Anne Miller, damaging a room at the Tower Hotel in Derry, resisting arrest and disorderly behaviour at the hotel a year earlier.

Stephen Hurley was his best friend and had known him for eight years. He described telling him the police were coming and said Mr Rodgers panicked.

Constable Michael Callaghan said police arriving at the Ramada had not run a check on Mr Rodgers but confirmed that he felt he took fright at the thought of the police. He added they were not there to arrest him.

He said the stretch of water near the Lough Keeper`s Cottage, a lough off the main river, was full of debris like shopping trolleys.

Senior coroner John Leckey said he seemed to be dealing with cocaine-related deaths with greater frequency, despite it being one of the most expensive drugs on the market.

Mr Leckey said the victim drowned after taking cocaine and alcohol.

"I believe Mr Rodgers` mental state was affected by the alcohol and the cocaine in combination because his behaviour was completely irrational," he said.

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