Sunday 16 June 2019

'Up into the air'

Ciara Galvin and Sorcha Crowley

Workers with Sligo County Council suffered significant injuries including a broken neck, back and head injuries in an accident in which their colleague was fatally injured.

Evidence was heard from the men in the trial of Vlastimil Zachar, with an address at Connell Drive, Newbridge, Co Kildare. The Czech national pleaded not guilty to dangerous driving causing death.

Padraig Noone, a general operative with the local authority was killed on 13, August 2015, when the Scania lorry Zachar was driving, veered into the hard shoulder at Ballhealy townland, Hollybrook, Castlebaldwin.

Giving evidence, Thomas Colleary, a fellow general operative recalled he was behind two tractors which were hedge cutting, along with Mr Damien Davey and the late Mr Noone who were all litter picking with him, when he heard a loud bang.

'I heard a loud bang and Damien [Davey] shouted, 'Oh God'. I saw a big cab of a truck coming and saw a JCB. The lorry had come into the hard shoulder'.

Mr Colleary said he was 'fired' 5 to 6 feet on the hard shoulder and was knocked out.

When he regained consciousness the number plate of the lorry was two feet from him.

He said he remembers seeing the JCB being rolled at a 45 degree angle into the bank of the hard shoulder and Mr Noone was in its path.

The Council employee said he saw Mr Noone to his right under the bucket of the JCB and when he went to check on him he knew he had passed away.

He then went to check his colleague, Damien Davey, who was lying on the ground 'moaning'.

He noticed that Andrew Fehily the JCB driver was thrown from his machine and that the cab of the lorry was in the hard shoulder with its trailer on the road. Colleary then directed traffic momentarily, but his arm was 'hanging down' and he was covered in blood.

After gardaí and emergency services arrived, Colleary's injuries were assessed and he had glass in his head and elbow but did not go to hospital.

Damien Davey told the court that on the day he knew something wasn't right when he heard 'a loud bang' and he started to run.

"I remember getting hit with the front bucket of the JCB. I could see Padraig under it.

"I was put up into the air and fell on the ground. The lorry was still coming pushing the JCB."

Mr Davey said he called to Mr Noone numerous times and tried to pull himself over to him. He was taken to Sligo General Hospital.

He suffered multiple breaks to his left leg, a punctured lung and fractured ribs. Mr Davey was in a wheelchair for eight months following the accident, is unable to return to work due to his injuries and cannot stand for longer than ten minutes at a time.

He still has a limp and according to medical evidence read into the court he was lucky not to have lost his leg.

Gerard Glynn, the driver of a Mitsubishi crew cab which was impacted by the lorry first, told the court that his vehicle and the JCB were stationary at the time of the accident.

Mr Glynn said he did not hear the sound of brakes but remembers feeling that his pick-up was being spun around anti-clockwise.

"I definitely felt a physical impact from behind. When I came to a halt I hit something solid. I remember going into a daze," said Mr Glynn.

Mr Davey was informed about his colleague's passing later that night in hospital, where he spent two weeks recovering. He suffered bruising to his back and head and received a gash to his leg.

In his evidence, JCB driver Anthony Fehily said he had been contracted by the Council for approximately 24 years and on the day in question his task was to open drains.

Mr Fehily recalled that he could see the Mitsubishi pick-up being 'squashed' by the lorry. Shatters of glass appeared after this and Mr Fehily then remembers waking up. He had been ejected from his JCB.

"I didn't realise where I was, blood was pumping out of my head. The tractor driver put his hand under by head and I said 'ring my wife'," said Mr Fehily.

Mr Fehily was told in hospital the following day that he was 'lucky to be alive' as he had broken his neck, upper back, damaged his spleen, suffered a head injury, broken his chest bone, broken four ribs and suffered cuts to his leg.

He was over two weeks in hospital recovering and underwent a skin graft and plastic surgery.

In a statement from Deirdre Jones, plastic surgeon, the court heard that Mr Fehily had suffered extensive scarring to his face and calf, she added that the 'psychological upset' was the most worrying aspect for her patient.

In his evidence, tractor operator Paul McGettrick said when he heard the loud bang he thought something had 'glanced' the hedge cutter, but when he looked around he could see Padraig Noone and Damien Davey running and the JCB 'shot up the bank'.

When he looked back further he could see that a lorry had jack knifed.

Mr McGettrick phoned emergency services and ran over to the men.

He knew Mr Noone was no longer alive, while Mr Davey was lying beside the JCB. He then ran behind the JCB where Mr Fehily was and then noticed the pick-up was 'spun around' in the opposite direction it had been in.

He noticed Zachar was in the cab of the truck and looked 'shaken' and 'in shock'.

Fellow tractor driver Cillian Dwyer also gave evidence and said he heard one bang and saw the lorry jack knifed and the JCB pushed in on the grass.

Before her cross examination, Ms Eileen O'Leary SC, extended condolences to the Noone family and his colleagues, on behalf of her client, Zachar.

Ms O'Leary told the court that her client has not drove since the accident.

When asked if they had each signed the Safe System Work Plan, before commencing work on the day, each witness, bar Gerry Glynn noted that they had viewed and signed the plan.

In relation to Mr Colleary, Mr Davey, Mr Fehily and Mr Glynn, the defending senior counsel clarified if each of the men had a personal injury claim lodged to the High Court.

The four men outlined that they had launched claims. Ms O'Leary quoted some of the claims as part of the men's injury cases, detailing that Sligo County Council failed to provide adequate traffic management, lateral clearance, or a safety zone wide enough for the work to take place.

Ms O'Leary highlighted that on the day of the accident there was two small signs notifying that work was taking place, along with a sign on the back of the Mitsubishi pick-up and another sign 6.2km away from the site.

In relation to Mr Davey's personal injury claim against the Council, Ms O'Leary cited that they [Sligo County Council] failed to maintain a safe work environment and failed to take reasonable or any care on the day.

When asked if he believed these issues cited against the Council were his feelings towards the local authority, Mr Davey replied, 'ya'.

The trial continues before Judge Francis Comerford and a jury of eight men and four women at Sligo Circuit Court today (Tuesday).

Sligo Champion