THE dangers of driving while under influence of alcohol were highlighted at an inquest into the tragic deaths of two men who drowned when their car plunged into a river outside Glengarriff last year.
Coroner Frank O’Connell heard how two men and two teenagers were travelling along a rural road just off the N71 outside Glengarriff when their car crashed through a stone wall and came to a stop, upside down, in a river during the early hours of August 3rd 2020.
Survivor and rear seat passenger Fergal O’Sullivan (23) told the inquest that he and Luke Harrington (18), Michael Bowen (40) and Tadgh Murphy (19) had been in Kenmare at Dowling’s Caravan Park socialising and that they met up with a group of about 20 friends at a picnic area at The Pooleen.
Mr O’Sullivan said that the group had a campfire and were drinking until about 3.45am. For the journey back to Glengarriff, he got into the back seat of Mr Murphy’s VW Jetta, along with Luke Harrington. Mr Bowen got into the front seat with Mr Murphy at the wheel.
‘I remember some sort of bounce in the car, maybe the wheel clipped a rock on the left hand side of the road, causing the car to flip across the road,’ Mr O’Sullivan said.
‘Then it hit something before going down a drop, the drop seemed to go on forever.’
The car had plunged almost four metres before stopping on its roof in the river, with the front submerged in water.
‘He [Tadgh] said that we were dead, that we were all going to die and he was screaming that he was sorry,’ Mr O’Sullivan said.
Next the car began to further submerge into the river and Mr O’Sullivan, who was suspended upside down, managed to free himself from his safety belt as water flooded into the car.
Mr O’Sullivan saw Luke Harrington floating beside him, and kicked the rear passenger door.
‘I managed to force one of the doors open,’ he said and as he reached back, he felt a body next to him.
‘I pulled this person out with me, I didn’t know who it was at the time, because of the darkness. I tried to pull the body up onto a rock beside the car, but I kept slipping back.’
Mr O’Sullivan managed to get this man, Luke Harrington, onto the rock where he began mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.
After a few minutes Mr Harrington, who was showing no signs of life, spurted water from his mouth.
‘Luke was responding to me then and was talking to me,’ Mr O’Sullivan said. ‘He was crying and saying, “How did you save me?”’
Mr O’Sullivan attempted to go back into the water and to the car to see if he could get Mr Bowen and Mr Murphy out, but Luke Harrington started to slip off the rock.
Fergal O’Sullivan then carried Luke Harrington back to the road and they walked into Glengarriff and raised the alarm.
When the emergency services arrived at the scene Tadgh Murphy and Michael Bowen were pronounced dead.
Forensic pathologist Dr Margot Bolster said that they had both died from acute cardio-respiratory failure, due to drowning following a road traffic collision.
She said that an autopsy on both men revealed that driver Tadgh Murphy had 218mls of alcohol per 100mls in his blood and Michael Bowen had 137mls, with a minute amount of cocaine also present in both men.
‘The alcohol in their systems would have impaired their ability to save themselves,’ Dr Bolster said.
Coroner Frank O’Connell delivered verdicts of accidental death for both Tadgh Murphy of 3 Harbour View, Glengarriff, and Michael Bowen of Ahakista and said: ‘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.’
After extending his sympathies to both families, Mr O’Connell said that Fergal O’Sullivan must be ‘commended for his heroic effort on the night for which Mr Harrington undoubtedly owes him his life.’