Monday 20 May 2019

'I'll never walk her down the aisle' - Heartbroken father on losing his daughter to a hit-and-run

Dublin dad Leo Lieghio had to say goodbye to his 16-year-old daughter Marsia when she lost her life after being hit by a car, travelling 80kph, as she crossed the road with friends on October 16, 2005

Leo Lieghio at the pedestrian crossing where his daughter Marsia was fatally injured by a hit-and-run driver
Leo Lieghio at the pedestrian crossing where his daughter Marsia was fatally injured by a hit-and-run driver

It doesn't get any easier, you just learn to cope with it that little bit better. But all it takes is a song or a photograph and everything comes flooding back.

It's been 12 years now, but I feel that if I didn't still cry then I'd feel like it was Marsia slipping out of my mind and out of my heart. The pain helps me because I know it means she's still there and I'll never forget.

I remember getting the phone call telling me she'd been knocked down. It was about 8.20pm and her mam, Teresa, and I left our younger boys with a neighbour and ran down the road; when we got there, Marsia was lying on a stretcher.

We followed the ambulance to Tallaght Hospital and there a guard told us that Marsia had been less than a yard away from the footpath when she'd been knocked clean out of her runners to the height of the traffic lights. The driver hadn't stopped.


We got transferred to ICU and that was one hell of a scary place. Even though I've had family in ICUs since then, I still haven't been able to bring myself to set foot in one since.

Over those first couple of days we thought maybe Marsia had a chance of pulling through. They had her in an induced coma because her brain was swollen but anytime they tried to bring her out of it, she would get agitated and start reaching for her head.

On one occasion I was holding her hand, just so she'd know that I was there. I remember telling her she would be OK and not to be worrying and I felt her squeezing my hand. That was the last communication we had from her.

A couple of days later she was transferred to Beaumont. She needed to have a test to see if there was any blood flow to the brain. Myself and my older daughter Lia were in the chapel praying and crying when they did the test.

Then the time came and the doctors called us in and told us there was no blood flow to Marsia's brain - she was gone.

We went outside and Teresa got physically sick. I had to get down on my knees and tell our nine-year-old and 11-year-old that their sister was gone. We hadn't even realised it was Lia's birthday. I just remember hugging Marsia, kissing her and begging her to come back.

In those days, when we never left the hospital, we didn't even know who the driver was. All we wanted was Marsia to come back to us. After the funeral we started thinking about the driver and our anger at her and when we found out who she was our anger was with the Government, the guards and the DPP.

The driver, Ciara McAlinden, had previous convictions and was serving a driving ban from the previous year for drink-driving when she hit Marsia and drove off - she got jailed for 10 months.

My Marsia could have been alive. There are 188 people killed on the roads by reckless drivers who could have been alive. People are losing their lives and it's put down to 'drink culture' and speed. They call them road accidents but they shouldn't be called that because they're not 'accidents'.

If you drive with drink or drugs in your system, or you're speeding or driving recklessly, then that is not an accident; that's a conscious decision that's been made.

At this time of year, with the party season underway, it's always at the forefront of my mind that another family could be about to go through what we went through, joining this club that no one wants to belong to.

Every story on the news brings it back and it's like another kick in the teeth. Especially when you have politicians like Danny Healy-Rae and other gobs****s saying it's OK to have two or three drinks and drive, or else it's going to destroy rural Ireland. If they care so much about their constituents having a drink, organise special transport, don't put other people's lives in danger.

I remember hearing someone say that when you lose a partner, you have your past together and all your memories to look back on. But when you lose a child, you're also left grieving for the things you never got to do.

I'll never get to see Marsia in her debs dress, I'll never get to walk her down the aisle or have that dance with her. She was mad over kids - she'd have babysat for anyone, her uncle used to call her Mary Poppins! She'd have been a fantastic mother - I'll never get to see that.

We buried some of her ashes in the grave and even though we know she's not there it's somewhere to go and have a little chat. But I should be at home babysitting Marsia's kids, not going to her grave. Because of some idiots on the roads, because of irresponsible drivers, there are families going to graves every week.

Lia never celebrates her birthday on October 22 now and I know the boys still remember and think about Marsia.

Teresa and I separated a couple of years after. I wouldn't say I've gone downhill, but it's hard to explain, I feel nothing in this world can ever hurt me again. It's 12 years since Marsia's gone and every day is the same. I'd love to remember all the happy memories but every time I start that I'm always brought back to that week.

I'd like to ask anyone who thinks they can get into their car after a few drinks, or who thinks they can drive recklessly, please, from the bottom of my heart and from the hearts of everyone who has ever lost a child, think twice.

How would you feel if you kill a child for the sake of a drink or to save an extra minute or two? Don't think it could never happen to you. You don't want someone getting the knock on the door or getting the call that I got. Trust me, nobody wants that.

Leo is a member of the Irish Road Victims' Association In conversation with Chrissie Russell

Irish Independent

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