Thursday 17 October 2019

Student died of head injuries after 'freak' fall on stairs - inquest

Tragic: Victim Sophie Coll
Tragic: Victim Sophie Coll

David Raleigh

A young Galway woman died in a “freak” fall from a stairs while attending a house party two years ago, her inquest heard today.

Sophie Coll (19) from Barna, a second-year student attending at University of Limerick (UL), was ascending the stairwell with three friends when one of them “slipped” resulting in the group falling backwards like “dominos”.

Ms Coll was the only one who was injured, and suffered a fatal skull fracture when her head hit impacted on a tiled floor, Limerick Coroner’s Court heard.

The accident occurred at a house at Stanford Close, located near UL, on September 25, 2017.

Ms Coll, and her friends, Zoe Patterson and Keely McGrath, had earlier attended a birthday party in another house.

Ms Patterson and Ms Keely, who attended the inquest with Ms Coll’s father Rory Coll, stated in their depositions they had consumed a few “cans of beer” on the night but they were not inebriated.

Ms Coll had also consumed some beer and had also possibly consumed some vodka on the night, it was heard.

At the house party the three girls met another friend Darragh Hannify, a fellow business student from Clarenbridge, Co Galway.

The inquest heard Mr Hannify was leading the four friends up the stairs when he suddenly lost his footing and fell backwards.

Mr Hannify, who was not present at the inquest, told gardai he consumed “about two cans” and some “vodka” on the night.

“I was half way up the stairs, I grabbed the bannister, I bumped into it. I kind of slipped back, I know I bumped into someone, I think it was Zoe,” he stated in his deposition.

“When I looked back, Sophie was on the ground at the bottom of the stairs.”

Mr Hannify said a crowd then gathered around Ms Coll and that someone called for an ambulance.

Zoe Patterson, from Glanmire, Co Cork, told gardai Mr Hannify “appeared to loose his balance” before stumbling on the stairs.

She said they all fell back “like dominos” but that she managed to stabilise herself by grabbing hold of the bannister.

“In a split second Sophie flew past me backwards before hitting tiles on the hallway floor,” she stated in her deposition..

Keely McGrath, from Glenbrook, Lyne, Aherlow, Tipperary, stated Mr Hannify “kind of wobbled back and pushed back on us like dominos” as the group went upstairs.

“I heard a smack on the ground and I knew Sophie had fallen...When Darragh stumbled it was completely accidental,” she added.

An ambulance, which was dispatched from Nenagh, Co Tipperary, reached the house within 40 minutes after receiving the emergency call.

Pathologist Dr Gabor Laskai, said in his opinion, that due to Ms Coll’s “very severe” injuries, nothing could have been done to save her.

Advanced paramedic Dan New, stated in his deposition that he and a colleague spent “twenty minutes” administering emergency first aid to Ms Coll, after they arrived at the house.

A neck collar was also applied and her body was supported in a “vacuum mattress”.

He stated Ms Coll was “completely unresponsive” when she was transferred by ambulance to University Hospital Limerick, where she was pronounced dead the following evening.

Ms Coll’s parents had been traveling in France at the time of their daughter’s fatal fall.

Her injuries were “not compatible with life” despite further attempts by doctors to resuscitate her and her family agreed to donate her organs to help give life to others, it was heard.

A post mortem found Ms Coll had suffered “extensive brain damage”.

Limerick Coroner, Dr John McNamara described the evidence as “extremely harrowing”.

“It is clear alcohol wasn’t a factor. It was early in the evening and (Ms Coll’s) friends said very little alcohol had been consumed. It sounds like a freak accident as four young people were climbing a stairs.”

Dr McNamara said the four friends had fallen into one another like a “domino effect”.

“It’s very tragic. Sophie was a young lady with her whole life ahead of her,” he added.

Returning a verdict of accidental death, due to a severe skull fracture, he expressed his sympathies to Ms Coll’s loved ones and friends.

Rory Coll thanked paramedics, hospital staff and the gardai.

Speaking afterwards Mr Coll said his family had organised Sophie’s Ball, a fundraising ball set up in memory of Sophie, with proceeds going to the Anam Cara, a support group for parents following bereavement; the Organ Donor Garden, Salthill; and Colaiste Iognaid (The Jes), Sea Road, Galway, where his Sophie had attended.

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