A verdict of accidental death was returned at the inquest into the death of a 15-year-old boy in Killimer at Clare’s Coroner’s Court this week.
Described as “every parent’s worst nightmare” by County Coroner Isobel O’Dea, the jury heard how Kevin Donnellan, of Ballycurrane, Knock spent his last few hours with a friend at “his favourite place” – Killimer Ferry.
The tragic events that unfolded, after the consumption of a significant amount of alcohol for a boy of his age, has had devastating consequences for his family and for the woman who accidentally caused his death.
The court heard that Kevin left his home on Hallowe’en night, 2016 to meet a close friend near Burrane National School.
His friend outlined that Kevin had brought a litre bottle of vodka, which was half full and hip flasks also containing vodka.
They arrived at the school around 1.40am and decided to walk towards the ferry, which was “Kevin’s favourite place”.
His friend said the “drink started to kick in” and they were “staggering” towards the ferry, arriving at approximately 3am.
His friend said he had passed out from drink and when he came to, there was “no sign” of Kevin. He made his way home, arriving at 6.30am. The friend said his parents were unaware that he had been out all night.
In a deposition read into the court record, Christine Flynn, a receptionist with the Trump International Hotel in Doonbeg, was making her way to work in the early hours of November 1, leaving from her home in Knock in her 2016 Skoda at 6.25am.
She recalled passing Burrane National School and when she was approaching Killimer GAA pitch, she saw something black on the road.
She thought it looked like silage wrapping and said it was “low to the road”.
She then felt as if she had gone over a bump in the road on the passenger side of her car.
She drove on a short distance but had “a feeling” that she had to go back and check. She did go back and initially thought she was looking at a sports bag.
On closer inspection, she could see legs. She said she was unable to tell at this stage if it was a person or a Hallowe’en prop.
She called 999 and informed them there was a body on the road and that she may have hit them or knocked them down.
Ms Flynn said the person’s head was covered by a hood and that the body was in a loose foetal position. She followed the instructions of the emergency services to check if he was breathing. She then saw that it was a young person.
She was guided through CPR and continued this for 15 to 20 minutes, until an ambulance arrived.
When it arrived, the paramedics found no sign of life but CPR was continued for approximately an hour. Death was pronounced at 8.50am.
Sergeant Seamus O’Regan, a forensic collision investigator, attended the scene later that day. He noted that the width of the road was 2.9 metres and that the width of the car was 1.6m.
The car was in good condition prior to the collision and that visibility would have been poor on the morning of the accident.
Dr Margaret Bolster, pathologist, who carried out a post mortem examination on Kevin, found evidence that he had suffered a linear fracture to his skull prior to the collision.
This, she said, was most likely caused by a fall prior to coming into contact with the car.
She said that this head injury had put him in “a comatose state”.
She added that he was unconscious at the time of impact and “would not have suffered at all”.
Her medical findings also concluded that Kevin’s blood alcohol level was at 161mg%, which would be the equivalent of five or six pints.
However, she noted that the level would have “almost certainly been higher prior to the head injury”.
She added, “The level of alcohol must be taken into account as significant in the case of a young boy, who was not a regular drinker and the effects on him would be much greater” than in the case of an adult.
Dr Bolster outlined that she had considered the various ways in which the deceased could have sustained this head injury.
She ruled out being struck by a vehicle while upright, as there was no evidence of trauma to the lower part of his body to indicate this.
She also ruled out a possible assault by a third party on the basis that the injury was a linear fracture, and these typically occur as a result of a fall. She also said she found no evidence of previous injury to the brain, such as a prior concussion.
Dr Bolster said it was possible that Kevin could have walked a distance after sustaining the head injury but she felt it was more likely that he fell closer to the scene.
She determined that cause of death was due to haemorrhage/shock, due to a rollover injury by a car secondary to being comatose following a brain injury. A contributory factor was the ingestion of alcohol.
Having considered the matter, the jury returned a verdict of accidental death and the recorded cause of death in line with the medical evidence.
Addressing the Donnellan family, coroner Isobel O’Dea said, “It is always difficult to deal with inquests involving young people. A lot of us here are parents and cannot imagine the pain you have gone through in losing a son.
“Kevin wasn’t aware that he was hit, he was not conscious. My deepest sympathies to you. I hope it will bring some element of closure; it is every parent’s worst nightmare.”
Addressing Ms Flynn, she said, “I can only imagine the trauma this has caused you. Visibility was minimal on the day. It must be extremely traumatic for you. I want to acknowledge your efforts and those of the paramedics who conducted CPR.”
Inspector Paul Slattery extended his sympathies to the family on behalf of An Garda Síochána and he said the accident was one that resonated deeply with him personally and his colleagues.
He told Ms Flynn, “A lesser person would not have stopped. A lesser person would not have dialled 999 and done CPR. You are one very brave lady”.
Sympathies were also extended to the Donnellan family by members of the jury.