Friday 23 August 2019

'The one ray of sunshine is my daughter survived this tragedy'

Mother hopes lessons will be learned from inquest into Buncrana Pier deaths, reports Nicola Anderson

Louise James after the inquest
Louise James after the inquest
Nicola Anderson

Nicola Anderson

Outside in the bitter cold, Louise James told how her heart has been left shattered.

"There are simply no words capable of expressing my pain, my disbelief and indeed my anger over what happened on that fateful day. My heart is shattered.

"Every moment of every day is filled with thoughts of my beautiful boys Mark and Evan, my mother Ruth, my sister Jodie Lee and my partner Sean," the Derry woman said in a statement read by her solicitor as she stood by his side.

"The one ray of sunshine in my life is my beautiful daughter Riognach who survived this horrible tragedy.

"For that I must once again thank Davitt and all those others who helped to save her on that day," she said.

Verdicts of death by misadventure caused by drowning were reached by the jury in each of the separate inquests into the death of Sean McGrotty (49) and his sons Mark (12) and Evan (8), Ruth Daniels (58) and her daughter Jodie Lee Daniels (14) on March 20, 2016.

Sean McGrotty with his partner Louise, four-month-old Rionaghac-Ann, and sons Mark (11), right, and Evan (8)
Sean McGrotty with his partner Louise, four-month-old Rionaghac-Ann, and sons Mark (11), right, and Evan (8)

The coroner Denis McCauley had earlier explained to the jury that misadventure meant that a risk had been associated with the events of the day and that someone had done something that increased the risk of the event happening, the coroner said.

The extended family had been for dinner in Buncrana and gone for a drive, when Mr McGrotty parked on a slipway on the pier at Lough Swilly before sunset.

The end of the pier was covered in thick algae and the Audi Q7 began to slip into the lake.

Local man Davitt Walsh swam out to the sinking SUV and managed to rescue the baby Rioghnach-Ann.

Jodie Lee Daniels
Jodie Lee Daniels

Ms James had just flown back from a hen weekend to Liverpool when she learned of the incident.

Mr McGrotty was found in a post-mortem examination to have been three times the drink-driving limit.

Yesterday, Gerard Boyle of Audi Ireland told the inquest electrical components were not supposed to be submerged in water but he believed the doors should still have worked.

The locking mechanism was in the boot of the car and would stay in whatever position it had been before the water rose.

Ruth Daniels
Ruth Daniels

Everybody should have been able to open the doors manually after the electrics failed, he said.

The firm had been testing cars under water for the past 10 years, but Mr McGrotty's car, built in 2006, pre-dated the testing.

Barrister Keith O'Grady for motor insurers Allianz, representing the driver Mr McGrotty, asked if it was Audi's position that "all that had to be done here was a button pressed" and the windows would have opened.

"I can't say if it was done or tried to be done but that is how the vehicle works," Mr Boyle said.

Mr McGrotty would have had to use "considerable force" to break the driver's window with his elbow, the inquest heard, because the car had been fitted with laminated safety glass.

RNLI volunteer diver John O'Raw gave evidence that he had been unable to open the doors while underwater and retrieved the bodies of Jodie Lee and Mark through the open tailgate.

One of the first on the scene, Garda Seamus Callaghan, told of how the water was searched and RNLI crew took Ruth Daniels from the water and performed CPR on her at the water's edge.

The slipway had thick algae on it and Gda Callaghan commented he could not stand up without almost slipping into the water and had to get down on his knees to assist with the resuscitation attempts.

He told how the area had been sealed off as CPR was performed without avail on the five bodies. They were all pronounced dead and covered with blankets and a local priest said prayers over them.

Irish Water Safety CEO John Leech told the inquest cars should be fitted with hammers because "we are an island nation" with many waterways.

Giving advice on how to escape a car in water, Mr Leech said the advice was to get out in under a minute by first taking or cutting seatbelts off and opening or breaking the windows. Older children should be taken out first and adults then exit with infant children. Meanwhile, he said it shouldn't be difficult to open a car door under water, "just slower".

Reaching verdicts of death by misadventure, the jury recommended that Irish Water Safety advise and work with all interested parties to ensure best international practice and standards at all slipways and piers nationally.

The coroner extended his sympathy to the family on their "unimaginable" loss and paid tribute to those who had assisted at the scene.

Afterwards, Ms James said there were no words capable of expressing her pain and disbelief and her anger over what happened.

"I firmly believe that the slipway should have been closed to the general public or else proper warning signs displayed as it was an accident waiting to happen."

"Hopefully, lessons will be learned and the recommendations made following this inquest will be implemented," she said.

"Notwithstanding" the evidence that has emerged, she said Mr McGrotty was "a wonderful partner to me and an adoring father to his children.

"He lived for them."

Additional reporting by Andrew Phelan

Irish Independent

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