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Young crash driver already had dangerous driving conviction

THE driver of the car in which seven young men died on Sunday night had a previous conviction for dangerous driving in the area.

Shaun Kelly (21) has still not been told that his friends are dead as he continues to receive treatment.

He is in a serious but stable condition after the horrific accident that has been confirmed as the worst ever on an Irish road.

He was the sole survivor in a Volkswagen Passat that was carrying eight people when it careered into pensioner Hughie Friels's Toyota Corolla.

Mr Kelly appeared in court in connection with an incident that occurred in January 2007, less than 10 miles from where the weekend's tragedy took place. He was fined €1,000 for dangerous driving.

Gardai said last night that they do not believe that alcohol was a factor in the devastating crash, but speed may have played a role.

Today Mr Friel's family said they do not hold any malice towards the young men, with his cousin John saying: "It wasn't intentional that they set out with this to happen."

Mr Friel said: "If only the youth of Inishowen could just get the message that you just can't go out and drive on some of the roads that we have, that are just maybe not suitable for that type of driving."

Locals believed Mr Kelly was designated as the driver for the night after the eight young men met to watch the World Cup final at a pub in Buncrana.

The accident occurred just minutes after the men had watched Spain lift the trophy.

Seven of the group -- aged 19 to 23 -- died on impact, as did 66-year-old Mr Friel, who was on his way home from bingo.

Two of the young men -- Paul Doherty and Ciaran Sweeney -- would have been celebrating their 20th birthdays within the next fortnight.

Young friends were being offered help today through a special helpline and Facebook page called "talkbuncrana".

Families of young people who previously lost their lives in Donegal road crashes also gathered at Letterkenny General Hospital last night to offer their support as hearse after hearse removed the corpses.

The number of road fatalities from the weekend rose to 11 last night after a 16-year-old lost her battle following an accident in Limerick on Saturday. A man (43) and woman (27) also died in separate crashes in Galway and Tipperary.

A Forensic Collision Investigation Unit spent all of yesterday at the Donegal crash site trying to establish what happened in those few seconds.

A garda spokesperson told the Herald this morning they could still not estimate when the R238 road will be reopened.



Clipped

At this stage, officers believe the Passat clipped a Renault Megane driven by Hugh Friel's neighbour Anne Galloway.

The impact of the initial crash caused the Passat to veer out of control and it collided head-on with Mr Friel's car.

Both cars went off the road into a ditch and slid down a slope with the Toyota ending up on top of the Passat.

All eight victims were pronounced dead at the scene, while ambulance crews rushed Mr Kelly to Letterkenny General Hospital, where he remains under constant supervision.

Five of the bodies were thrown from the cars, with firemen finding one in a nearby stream.

John Friel said today that his "heart goes out" to the "poor families that are suffering at home".

Asked if he felt the effort to make Donegal's road safer had failed, he replied: "I would say... the message seems to have gone across because we hadn't as many fatalities on the road over the last couple of years."

But Mr Friel said: "This year it has set us back again. The message has to go across to them, the dangers of a car and what it can leave behind."

He added that the whole community in the Inishowen would unite and "come together" rather than apportion blame for the accident.

"There is really, really great support," he said.

The Herald has learned that two crucial eyewitnesses who were travelling together have come forward to help with the investigation.

"A couple who were just driving out of Clonmany before the collision were overtaken by the Volkswagen Passat moments before the collision occurred and they had concerns for their safety," said a source.

kdoyle@herald.ie


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