THREE people died and a teenager was left with serious injuries when a 20 year old driver lost control of his car and smashed through a heavy metal road sign.
The driver, alongside his 20 year old and 35 year old female passengers, died at the accident scene at Middlemount some 5km from Rathdowney, Co Laois.
A 16 year old back seat passenger of the car suffered serious injures and was taken to Tullamore General Hospital.
His condition is now stable and his injuries are not understood to be life-threatening.
The accident occurred shortly after 3am at Middlemount on the Abbeyleix-Rathdowney Road.
It is believed the young man lost control of his car and was unable to prevent it smashing into a heavy metal road sign.
No other vehicle was involved.
He was killed instantly such was the force of the impact with the road sign.
Both female passengers, one in the front passenger seat and the other in the rear of the car, suffered critical injuries and were pronounced dead before they could be transferred to Tullamore General Hospital.
Gardai closed the Rathdowney-Abbeyleix Road and warned that diversions will remain in place until later this afternoon.
Accident scene investigators commenced a detailed examination of the roadway involved in a bid to determine what caused the tragedy.
All three deceased were later transferred to the morgue at Portlaoise General Hospital for post mortem examinations.
The deceased are all from the Rathdowney area and have been friends since childhood.
Two local councillors today admitted it was “a black day not just for Rathdowney but for the entire county of Laois.”
“The entire community is in shock after this – it is an awful tragedy particularly because it involves families that are held in the highest respect and esteem locally,” Councillor John King said.
“It is a black, black day for Rathdowney. There may be major GAA games in Munster and Leinster but there will be no-one celebrating around here,” the Fine Gael official said.
“Stretches of that road are very windy and there was a young man who died not far from there a couple of years back in another accident,”
"But my deepest sympathies go out to the families of those involved in this tragedy."
Councillor King is a veteran of Laois Fire Brigade and he said enormous credit must go to the gardai, paramedics and fire brigade officials who did absolutely everything possible at the scene to help the injured.
Councillor John Joe Fennelly said there had been a number of serious accidents on stretches of the Abbeyleix-Rathdowney road over recent years and a special speed limit was introduced along certain sections some time ago.
“It is a terrible accident and my heart goes out to the families involved,” the Fianna Fail official said “All we can do now is to do everything we can to support them as a community and to keep them in our prayers.”
“But it is a desperate tragedy and everyone is numbed by it.”
Gardaí have appealed for witnesses or anyone who may have been on the Rathdowney to Abbeyleix Road between 2.30am and 3am on Sunday morning to contact Portlaoise Garda station on (057) 8674100, the Garda Confidential Telephone Line (1800) 666111 or any Garda station.