A coroner in Co Cork has warned of the dangers of drink driving as he commended the heroism of a young man who saved the life of a fellow car passenger following a crash in which two other men lost their lives.
The car driven by 19-year-old Tadhg Murphy veered off the N71 near Glengarriff into a river on 3 August, 2020.
Tadhg Murphy and one of his three passengers, 40-year-old Michael Bowen, both lost their lives.
At the inquest into their deaths today, Coroner for West Cork, Frank O’Connell said there was no avoiding the fact that there were lessons to be learned from the tragedy which claimed the two lives.
“I would hope that lessons would be learned from this terrible tragedy. There is no avoiding the fact that these deaths are associated with intoxication,” said Mr. O’Connell, after hearing evidence that both men had been found to have alcohol and minute traces of cocaine in their systems.
The coroner paid tribute to survivor 23-year-old Fergal O’Sullivan, who, he said, through his heroism had undoubtedly saved the life of another passenger, 18-year-old Luke Harrington, by pulling him from the upturned car as it lay submerged in the river just off the Kenmare to Glengarriff Road.
Mr O’Sullivan told the inquest that the four of them had been socialising with others at Dowlings Caravan Park in Kenmare on the night of 2 August before heading with about 20 friends to a picnic area at the Pooleen, when they sat around a campfire drinking until around 3.45am.
It was as they drove back to Glengarriff that Mr Murphy lost control of his VW Jetta car rounding a left-hand bend in the road.
The inquest heard that the car plunged down almost four metres before coming to rest on its roof in a river. Mr O’Sullivan said he realised as he drifted in and out of consciousness that he was upside down in the car, suspended by his seatbelt, as water began flooding into the Jetta.
“Tadhg was conscious at the time and was screaming, saying he was sorry – that’s all he was saying that he was sorry – he was saying that we were dead. That we were all going to die and he was screaming that he was sorry,” said Mr O’Sullivan.
He managed to free himself from his seatbelt and force open one of the doors. He staggered out and turned around towards the submerged car reaching back in. Because of the darkness he couldn’t see but he felt a body and grabbed it and pulled the person out of the car.
“I pulled this person out with me – I didn’t know who it was at the time, as it was dark,” he said.
“I tried to pull the body up on to a rock near the driver’s door, but it kept slipping back. I stopped then and checked to see if he was breathing and to see if his stomach was moving but he wasn’t breathing.”
Getting the man onto the rock, he started mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and, after about five minutes, the man, who turned out to be Luke Harrington, came around.
“Luke was responding to me then and was talking to me,” Mr O’Sullivan said.
“He was crying and he was saying ‘How did you save me?’ and I told him that he was alive.”
Mr O’Sullivan then went back to the car to look for the others, but had to abandon the search when Mr. Harrington started slipping off the rock.
The two men managed to make it back up the road and walked to Glengarriff where they raised the alarm at 5.29am.
The emergency services were quickly on the scene where they found the bodies of the two dead men.
Post mortem examinations were carried out on both men by Assistant State Pathologist Dr Margot Bolster.
Mr Murphy was found to have 218 mls per cent of alcohol in his blood and a minute amount of cocaine in his system, while Mr. Bowen was found to have 137 mls per cent of alcohol in his blood and an equally minute amount of cocaine in his system.
Dr Bolster said both men suffered few injuries in the collision and both had died from acute cardio-respiratory failure due to drowning following a road traffic collision.
She said the amount of alcohol in both men’s systems would have impaired their ability to save themselves in the water.
Verdicts of accidental death were returned in both cases.
Mr O’Connell extended his sympathies to both the Murphy and Bowen families on their loss, before commending Mr O’Sullivan “for his heroic efforts on the night, for which Mr. Harrington undoubtedly owes him his life.”