Unlawful death verdict in
burned seatbelt to free crash victim
A GROUP of friends frantically burned through a car
seatbelt with cigarette lighters to free a trapped
crash victim, an inquest in Carndonagh has heard.
The inquest into the death of Alice Mullan, 20, in a
head-on collision at Ballyargus, Redcastle, in the
early hours of March 19, 2005, also heard evidence
from beautician Louise Cantwell. Ms. Cantwell, 24,
received a three-year suspended sentence and a
five-year driving ban in July for dangerous driving
causing the deaths of Ms Mullan and Kelly Doherty,
20, who were rear and front seat passengers,
respectively, in her white Corsa car. The friends
were travelling home to Carndonagh from the Bailey
nightclub when the accident happened.
Ms Cantwell described how she had overtaken another
friend Patricia Logue's Citroen Saxo and was
rounding a bend when she saw the lights of a car up
Following the impact
she was "knocked out for a few seconds" and when she
came to, she was outside the car, her legs caught,
possibly by a seatbelt. "I called out to the girls
but didn't get an answer," she said. She said she
noticed a strong smell of petrol before being helped
from her car by friends.
The driver of the oncoming car, Rhona Moran, who was
driving to her parentsí holiday home in
Moville after work in
the family pub in Derry around 3.30am, described
seeing the headlights of two cars coming around the
sweeping bend up ahead of her.
"I wish to say that in my opinion, the two cars were
going too fast. They were flying. I expected to see
a garda car coming after them. I thought it was
maybe a getaway from a robbery," said Ms Moran.
In his deposition, Paul McLaughlin, said he was one
of six people travelling in Ms. Logue's Saxo. He
described seeing Ms Cantwell's car up ahead do a
"full circle" in the road before landing on top of a
gravel-filled traffic barrel on the hard shoulder.
The car he was travelling in ended up under it, he
told the inquest. He said he attended to Ms Mullan
who had blood coming from both ears and he "knew she
was in a bad state". He discovered Ms Doherty still
breathing but lying under the Corsa with her
seatbelt still on. He got a lighter and started to
burn through the seatbelt to free her. His friends
joined him with more lighters and eventually they
managed to burn through the belt. They lifted the
car to remove Ms Doherty from underneath. Patricia
Logue outlined to the inquest how she could find no
pulse from Ms Mullan who was pronounced dead at the
scene. Ms Doherty died several hours later in
Donegal coroner Dr John Madden told the jury they
must decide whether Ms Mullan's death was
accidental, was by misadventure or was unlawful.
Following a 15-minute deliberation, the jury
returned a verdict of unlawful death brought about
by a traffic accident.
In his summing up, Dr Madden revealed he had around
14 road accident deaths still to be heard. This was
astounding, he said, for a small geographical
location such as Inishowen. He said if young people
could see the enormity of the tragedy visited upon
families because of road accidents, they might "slow
down". "But there is no evidence of this happening,"
he said, outlining the large number of crash
inquests still to be heard in the locality.