'We don't want other families to suffer'

Daughters of American cyclist who died in Gap of Dunloe speak to The Kerryman after their mother's inquest in Killarney

Jennifer Lee Price and Erika Price pictured near Kate Kearney’s Cottage and close to where they hope to install a fitting memorial bench for their mother who died following a cycling accident at the Gap of Dunloe last year
Jennifer Lee Price and Erika Price pictured near Kate Kearney’s Cottage and close to where they hope to install a fitting memorial bench for their mother who died following a cycling accident at the Gap of Dunloe last year
Arriving from Washington State, Jennifer Lee Price and Erika Price arrive at Killarney District Court to attend the inquest into their late mother’s death
Janet Price who died at the scene of a cycling accident in the Gap of Dunloe last year

Sinead Kelleher

The daughters of the late Janet Price, who died in a cycling accident at the Gap of Dunloe in May 2017, have said that after a year-long wait they now have "closure" and can move on with their lives following her inquest in Killarney last week.

From Washington state in the US, Janet's family, including her husband, Don Theiler, have called for signage to be erected on the Gap of Dunloe to ensure no other family suffers as they have.

Erika and Jennifer Price travelled to Ireland last week to attend the inquest of their mother at Killarney Courthouse last Thursday.

During their trip to Ireland they also met with Kerry County Council officials to discuss plans for a memorial bench for their mother which is hoped could be in place by September when her husband, Don Theiler, plans to visit Ireland again.

The inquest jury returned a verdict of accidental death. Speaking following the inquest, outside Killarney courthouse, the daughters said that they were happy with the inquest but would have liked more answers.

"I don't think anyone will know what happened but it was an accident," said Erika.  "It wouldn't change anything to have more clarity but, yes, we would like more clarity," said daughter Erika.

Speaking to The Kerryman later that evening, Erika and Jennifer said it had been a very difficult year and they were glad that the inquest was over. But they reiterated concerns that they still didn’t know exactly what happened on that fateful day.

"It is a bit of relief, it is the final hurdle. We made it through the one -year mark. We have sold the house and went through her stuff. I was dreading coming here and I didn't want to, but it is a relief to have it over.

The inquest is the hardest part, and the autopsy," said Erika.  Jennifer, who travelled to Ireland following the accident, said the inquest was 'closure' for her.  "It has been a hard year but now I have lightness back in my life.  For both of them attending the inquest was vital.

"We really wanted to be here for Mom so that she was represented. We wanted to understand how it happened." Erika said there were still some questions they didn't get answered but they praised the coroner and the gardaí for a very thorough investigation.

"What never made sense to me this whole year was how Don who was cycling with her was able to stop, he had no trouble stopping, he saw the same truck and stopped.

"We had the autopsy report six months ago. We were expecting to see head trauma but there was just chest trauma," said Erika.

The inquest was unable to say what exactly happened Ms Price on the day but the one thing both would like to see though is safety warnings so that no family suffers as they have done. Mr Theiler has also been pressing for this.

"Nobody warned them, maybe they didn't say where they were going, nobody said this is strenuous or an adventure bike ride. It's not anyone's responsibility, for sure, but I think because of tourism it is like go bike this or that, they thought it was a normal thing," said Jennifer.

"I have been there and that bend needs a sign in front saying sharp bend ahead. If it had said that she would have slowed down sooner."

Erika and Jennifer both met with Kerry County Council on Wednesday last to discuss plans for a memorial and for safety signs.  "Education for bike club's, that what the council is talking about.

There are all those bikes going on boat tours, so a tiny bit of warning would help." "They were waiting for recommendations from the inquest. They know there is pressure on them." After the inquest the sisters said there was it was imperative that tourism bodies now warn people.

"I think there is an onus on the town of Killarney and tourism to warn others. If they had been warned that it was not for beginner cyclists they might not have gone. We are all individuals and know what we are getting ourselves in to." Both sisters and Janet's husband, Don, also had nothing but praise for the people of Killarney and for the gardaí for their support following the accident and, indeed, in the months afterwards - in particular for their garda liaison officer.

"The gardaí were amazing to Don and I and helpful to him in the interim. They did a super thorough job in the investigation," said Jennifer.

"Don couldn't say enough about all the people we didn't pay for accommodation or speak-easy or the restaurant. Don said that the whole process was made easier. A terrible thing was made easier. He wouldn't have wanted it to happen anywhere else. If this happened in the US you would be on your own to figure out where the funeral home."

Both daughters told The Kerryman that Janet had been “their core” and described her as a trailblazer, who had a degree in Maths and an MBA – a woman who had an extremely successful business career in computers, an area largely dominated by men. She had retired early to concentrate on an art career which she also had success in.

The sisters chose a location at the Gap of Dunloe on Friday last for a special memorial bench for their mother and they are hoping that this will be put in place in September.

Don will travel to Kerry at the end of September during which he hopes to finalise the project.

Speaking from the Seattle area this week, Don reiterated his daughters' message, telling The Kerryman that his main fight now is to ensure others don’t suffer as his family have.

"It appears the council are going to do something about traffic. I certainly hope they follow through with that commitment so that other families don't go through what we did.

"There is signage at Kate Kearney's not to take private vehicles but a more aggressive approach should be taken to non-essential vehicles. There are bikers and hikers and pony traps and vehicles on the route are conflicting with that," he said.

He also said that the inquest system is very drawn out and should not take so long but he is glad that it is now finally over.

"For a family to wait 14 months is difficult and I feel that something should be done about the inquest system.

"Why does it take so long as it results in problems with legal issues? "But I'm glad it's over, it has been a weight on us for a long time."

Inquest returns verdict of accidental death

South Kerry Coroner, Aisling O’Sullivan-Quilter, has recommended that signage be erected at the Gap of Dunloe, following the inquest into the death of 69-year-old Janet Price who died on May 30, 2017 at the Gap of Dunloe.

Janet and her husband, Don Theiler, and friend Roy Christianson, had rented bikes that morning in Killarney and had taken the boatfrom Ross Castle to Lord Brandon’s Cottage, where they had lunch, before setting outfor the Gap of Dunloe.

In a deposition from Don, read at the inquest last Thursday, he said that neither ofthem had been experienced cyclists and that they had been careful with traffic, getting off their bikes a number of times because of this traffic.

He said that he had not seen the accident but that he had come across Janet lying under the trailer. He said her eyes were open and that she coughed up blood.

He shouted for the emergency services and said that a young lad had arrived and pulled Janet out from under the trailer. CPR was carried out by a number of witness atthe scene. Their friend Roy Christianson did not see the accident either.

Witness Donnacha Tangney, in his deputation which was read to the court, said he was driving his Toyota Landcruiser and trailer towards the Black Valley. He said that a horse and trap had pulled over to allow him to pass and he had done so when he saw a “cyclist coming down out of control”.

“I knew the speed from she was going that she couldn’t take the bend.”

He said that there was “no impact with the vehicle or the trailer”.

Another witness, James O’Connor, who was driving his jeep from Kate Kearney’s to the Gap of Dunloe, was behind Mr Tangney and said he saw no impact with the vehicle or the trailer.

Pat O’Donoghue, who was driving a horse and trap, said that he did not see Ms Price come offthe bike or strike the trailer.

PSV inspector, James O’Brien, who also gave evidence, said that the vehicle or trailer didn’t appear to have sustained any impact but that the front wheel of the bike had been impacted and had buckled. He was unable to say exactly what happened.

Garda Ray McSweeney said that the bend in the collision was “a severe left hand bend of 140 degrees” adding that it is a bend that “almost turns back on yourself”.

He said it was not a normal bend and that there were no warning signs at the bend. He added there were no brake marks that he could say were from the bike.

He said that, coincidentally the following day when investigating the scene, he saw another cyclist coming down who miscalculated the bend and crossed onto the wrong side of the road as Ms Price would have.

He said he believed that Ms Price ended up under the trailer in the course of a collision. He also noted that brake levers in the US are opposite to those in Ireland.

He said he could “not say with certainty” where the cyclist might have hit the trailer or if she did and he said he could not say if she was rolled over.

The autopsy report said that Ms Price died from blunt force trauma to the chest due to a fall from a bike. The injuries are consistent with a roll-over but that could not be said definitively.

The inquest found Ms Price’s death to be accidental and a recommendation was made to erect signage.