Wednesday 17 January 2018

Sled death 'like being in a car crash', inquest told

Sean and Siobhan Downey at the Coronor's Court in Cork
Sean and Siobhan Downey at the Coronor's Court in Cork yesterday
Aoife Downey: died after homemade sled crashed

Ralph Riegel

A GIRL was travelling so fast on a sled that when she hit a tree it was like being in a car crash, an inquest heard yesterday.

Cork Coroner's inquest heard that Aoife Downey (15) died instantly from massive head injuries after she was catapulted backwards into a large tree during a freak accident last Christmas.

She had reached speeds of more than 55kmh on a converted sign as she sped down a steep, snow-covered slope with four others.

The homemade sled being used by the five youngsters was a laminated 'For Lease' sign.

The accident occurred just hours before the young camogie player was due to attend her first disco on December 18 last.

In a moving statement last night, the Downey family said they blamed no one for the tragedy.

"Our lives changed forever when our beautiful, fun-loving, happy Aoife was taken from us. Aoife left that day to have fun in the snow and we want to make clear we hold no one responsible," Sean and Siobhan Downey said.

"We were incredibly privileged to have such a wonderful daughter," they said as they thanked all those who had tried to help Aoife.

Coroner Dr Myra Cullinane was told by engineer Kieran Spitere that the accident occurred in less than 17 seconds and that the sled may have reached speeds of more than 55kmh during its descent down the steep hill at Frankfield in Cork.

"The accident was akin to a car crash but on this occasion those on the sled were particularly vulnerable as they would not have had the benefit of safety equipment," he said.

One of the five friends fell off the sled -- leaving Aoife at the rear -- seconds before the sled spun around and ploughed into a tree.

Aoife was propelled backwards into the heavy trunk and died from severe head injuries.

The owner of the land had tried to lock down the complex but more than 100 children and adults had used the steep hill for skating and sledding that day after a heavy snowfall.

Aoife's best friend, Chelsea Noonan, said their group of eight friends had sledded down the hill several times before the tragedy occurred.


Chelsea -- who suffered a fractured pelvis and arm in the impact -- woke up to see people desperately trying to help Aoife.

Another friend, Christopher O'Callaghan, who suffered a broken leg, confirmed the sled had spun around.

Christopher's brother, Nathan, said the sled hit the tree with "a big thump".

"I stood up and had blood coming out of my mouth," he said.

The inquest returned a verdict of accidental death.

Irish Independent

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