Tuesday 15 October 2019

'Tiredness can kill' - Coroner's stark warning to drivers at inquest into death of young mother

  • Stark road safety warning at inquest
  • Harrowing details of the death of a young mother in collision as she travelled to see her sick newborn baby
  • Young Thurles mother Nicola Kenny (26) tragically lost her life
Nicola Kenny was killed in motorway crash just one day after giving birth
Nicola Kenny was killed in motorway crash just one day after giving birth

Ralph Riegel

A TIPPERARY coroner's inquest issued a stark road safety warning that tiredness kills after hearing harrowing details of the death of a young mother in a collision as she travelled to see her sick newborn baby in a Dublin hospital.

Tipperary Coroner Paul Morris issued a special plea for commercial vehicle operators to comply with all tachograph safety guidelines as he stressed the tragic case of Nicola Kenny (26) underlined the appalling consequences of potential driver fatigue.

Ms Kenny suffered fatal injuries as she was a back seat passenger in a parked Ford car struck by a Volvo lorry.

The truck driver claimed he was distracted by a bout of sneezing - but a Circuit Court judge assessed last year that driver fatigue was a contributing factor in the tragedy.

The young Thurles mother died instantly from multiple injuries after the car in which she was a back seat passenger was struck from behind while parked in the hard shoulder by the lorry. The car had pulled over to allow her take a phone call from a Dublin hospital to say her baby girl was fine and would be transferred back to Tipperary from Temple Street Children's Hospital.

Mr Morris confirmed a special recommendation from the Tipperary inquest jury urging road users to be aware of the consequences of driving while fatigued.

"It really does highlight the truth of the Road Safety Authority (RSA) campaign which is reflected in signs on the motorways that tiredness kills," he said.

"If ever there was a case that highlights the truth of that, this is it. Tiredness can kill.

"Drivers in commercial vehicles with tachograph systems should abide by safe driving times and take the appropriate rest periods to avoid fatigue and danger to other road users."

Ms Kenny had given birth in Tipperary to baby Lily Rose on September 4 2016.

However, the infant was very ill and was immediately transferred to Temple Street Hospital in Dublin for specialist care.

Ms Kenny - having just given birth - was unable to accompany the child.

She was travelling to Dublin on September 5 to see Lily Rose in a car being driven by her aunt Irene Whelan Slattery and accompanied by her mother, Ann.

Between Junctions 10 and 9 of the M8 Dublin-Cork road, Ms Kenny received a phone call from the hospital - and her aunt pulled over onto the hard shoulder so the call could be heard.

The call was from Temple Street Hospital to say Lily Rose was fine and that their journey to Dublin was not required.

Seconds later, the Ford Focus car was struck from behind by a Volvo lorry and driven down a grass embankment.

Last May, the lorry driver, Ciaran McBride (34), pleaded guilty before Tipperary Circuit Criminal Court to careless driving causing death on the M8 Dublin-Cork motorway on September 5 2016.

He received an 18 month suspended prison sentence after the court heard that he was profoundly remorseful over what had happened and now suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

The Volvo truck driven by McBride of Carna, Keady, Co Armagh ploughed into the rear of the Ford Focus which was parked on the hard shoulder.

Mrs Whelan Slattery suffered a traumatic brain injury in the collision.

She now suffers from severe memory problems.

Ms Kenny died from multiple injuries as, because she was a rear seat passenger, she sustained the bulk of the impact from the truck.

Her mother, Ann, suffered minor injuries.

Garda Declan Corrigan said the Ford Focus had pulled over onto the hard shoulder around 12.25pm on September 5 2016 to allow Ms Kenny to take an urgent phone call from Temple Street.

"The call was to tell Nicola the baby was fine and there was no need to travel to Dublin," he said.

Just as the call finished, the Ford was struck from the rear by the Volvo truck.

A passing motorist, Pat Foley, told Gardaí he saw the lorry "slowly veering off the road and onto the hard shoulder".

Mr Foley then saw the tragic collision in his rear view mirror.

Gardaí confirmed to Mr Morris that the trial judge believed that driver fatigue by the lorry operator was a contributing factor in the tragedy.

"It really highlights that lorry drivers should obey their tachograph and take their rest," Mr Morris said.

The Circuit Court trial heard the tachograph on Mr McBride's lorry was found not to be working properly because the recording disc had been incorrectly inserted.

The truck driver had gone to bed at midnight and got up at 4.30am to go to work.

He drove from his Armagh home to Kells, then onto Cork and was on his way back to Kells when the tragic collision occurred.

He had driven a total of 470km since he left home.

The driver had insisted to Gardaí he had taken the required breaks of 15 minutes and 30 minutes during that period.

Because the tachograph was not working properly, Gardaí could not verify from it all the travel and stoppage details of the lorry.

However, the Circuit Court heard that officers disputed the stop periods claimed as the lorry was equipped with a toll scanner - and when Gardaí recreated the journey from its details, they found the trip did not match the claimed driver breaks.

Mr McBride insisted at the scene and to Gardaí that the accident was caused when he suddenly suffered a sudden bout of sneezing and his vehicle drifted out of its lane onto the hard shoulder where the tragic collision occurred.

Ms Kenny's father, Paddy, attended the inquest but did not comment.

Last year, Nicola's parents, Ann and Paddy, said their lives had been left devastated by the tragedy.

"The death of Nicola as a young mother was devastating both for myself and my entire family," her mother said.

"Life will never be the same again."

Nicola's father, Paddy, said they are now raising Lily Rose.

"It has left a huge hole in our lives - Nicola's death is a big loss to our family and Lily Rose will have to grow up without her mother," he said.

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