Several local people saw Mr Ustic collapsed in the car park beside the garda station, reports Jackie Keogh
THE 51-year-old English man who was found dead last Monday morning in Skibbereen had only recently moved into the house where he was found unresponsive.
Jonathon ‘John’ Ustic died as a result of the injuries he sustained in an assault, according to the findings of a post mortem by state pathologist Dr Marie Cassidy.
John Ustic had moved to West Cork about ten years ago and lived primarily in the Dunmanway area for most of that time. But he and his partner relocated to a rental home at 15 High Street, Skibbereen, just a few months ago.
Mr Ustic’s partner, who is also from the UK, found his body in the living room of the yellow-coloured, two-storey house at 9am on Monday morning.
The ambulance was called and it arrived at High Street within minutes, but Mr Ustic was pronounced dead at the scene, and the gardaí quickly determined that the cause of death was ‘suspicious.’
They immediately cordoned off both the house and the three narrow roads that converged into a Y-shaped junction directly outside the house.
An early examination of the scene showed no sign of forced entry, even though parts of the house were described as being in disarray.
The gardaí sought the assistance of the Garda Technical Bureau from Dublin and state pathologist Dr Marie Cassidy.
Heavy fog on the motorway added to Dr Cassidy’s drive time to Skibbereen, but when she arrived at 4.30pm she began by carrying out a search of the car park at Chapel Lane, and then an examination of the deceased.
At 10pm on Monday night, Mr Ustic’s remains were taken by hearse to Cork University Hospital. A post mortem was scheduled to take place at 2pm on Tuesday afternoon, but that was put back to Tuesday evening, due to pressure of work.
The findings of the post mortem were made known to gardaí shortly before 9pm and a spokesperson for the garda press office confirmed: ‘The post-mortem results have established the male died from injuries resulting from an assault’, adding: ‘The death is now being treated as a murder investigation.’
The deceased allegedly had a number of injuries, including a big bruise on the left-hand side of his face, below the eye socket.
A local man and woman found the man lying on the ground in the middle of the car park. Although it was getting dark, the car park was illuminated by a single street light.
An eyewitness told The Southern Star: ‘I was passing the car park adjacent to the Still Road at 7.55pm and I saw a man lying on the ground on his right side. He was in the middle of the car park at Chapel Lane.’
The man said: ‘There was a local man and a woman by his side, and another man – an Egyptian – came along around the same time.
‘I approached them because I was going to give them a number for the ambulance, but when I got there, I discovered I had forgotten my phone.
‘One of the two men said he was going to phone the guards because the station, which is next to the car park, was closed.
‘I went there to help and I saw that the man had a mark on the left-hand side of his face. It looked like a big bruise.
‘He opened his eyes but appeared to be disorientated, or drunk, I couldn’t say. I left because I was in a hurry and he seemed to be getting the help he needed. It was only on Monday morning when I heard that a man was found dead in Skibbereen that I realised it was the same person.’
Another local man who was at the scene also spoke to The Southern Star. He said he approached Mr Ustic when he was lying on the ground and ‘shook him to try and wake him up.’
He said: ‘His eyes half-opened. It wasn’t drunken eyes that were looking up at me, and he made a low moaning noise, but said nothing more.’
The second eyewitness said he walked the short distance to the garda station and knocked on the door but it was closed and there was no answer.
The man said he then went to his own house to get the phone number for the local garda station and called the station using his landline, but there was still no answer, and his call was not automatically put through to Clonakilty Garda Station.
When the man went back to his front door – which overlooks the car park – he said he saw two other men and another woman with Mr Ustic.
‘These people said they knew him and that they would take him home. They said he was very drunk, but I said he was after a good beating. I said I’d be happier calling the ambulance, but they dragged him across the road.’
The eyewitness expressed his sadness about the entire situation, saying: ‘He was someone’s son. I spent the night thinking about that man and thinking that if I’d dialled 999, he might still be alive.’
The Southern Star contacted the Garda Press Office about the opening hours of Skibbereen Garda Station and a spokesperson issued the following reply:
‘The opening hours of Skibbereen Garda Station are clearly displayed on the front door of Skibbereen Garda Station. The station is closed on a Sunday and members working on that day are invariably out on patrol.
‘Underneath the opening hours is the following message: If the station is closed during the above times you can contact Clonakilty Garda Station on the number below. Clonakilty Garda Station 023 8821570. Skibbereen Garda Station: 028 23088. Emergency: 999. Garda Confidential Line: 1800 666111.’
Mr Ustic was not well known in Skibbereen – not even to his new neighbours – but it is understood that he had come to the attention of gardaí for ‘relatively minor’ matters, such as Public Order offences, while living in the Dunmanway area.
He had not, however, come to the attention of the gardaí during the months he had spent in Skibbereen.
Mr Ustic and his partner appeared to be settling in to Skibbereen and even had a satellite dish installed on their new home the day before the fatal incident.
Gardaí said they are happy with the public’s response to their call for information and the public’s patience with police procedure. People who had left their cars in the Chapel Lane car park were told they could not recover their vehicles until the forensic examination was complete.
By 9pm on Monday evening, the cars were allowed leave, but the cordon on both the car park and the house remained in place.
One woman spoke to The Southern Star about being questioned by the gardaí. She said they wanted to know if she was in the area between 7pm on Sunday night and 9am on Monday morning and if she had seen anything suspicious or heard a disturbance.
On Tuesday morning, Supt Ger O’Mahony, who is leading the investigation, appeared before Judge Mary Dorgan at Skibbereen District Court to make an application to preserve both crime scenes.
There has been a significant investment in Skibbereen’s CCTV system over the years and the gardaí will be viewing the town’s extensive footage as part of their investigation.
Of all the areas that form part of West Cork’s District 18, Skibbereen is considered to be one of the quietest. The town is not without its share of public disorder, assaults and drug-related crimes, but there are very few fatal cases.
The last time such a serious crime took place was at Christmas 2005 when a local man was charged with manslaughter after a body was found at Marsh Road.
Another local man was sentenced to two year’s imprisonment for the manslaughter of his cousin and ‘best friend’ after he admitted an incident took place after a marathon drinking session over the Christmas period. The victim in that case was also aged 51.