The parents of a little boy who was killed in a hit-and-run accident have called for tighter driving licence controls after it emerged the motorist’s licence was renewed after he had suffered two significant brain injuries which left him with the mentality of a child.
Stephen and Josephine O’Donovan, from Ballymacoda, Co Cork, pleaded for change yesterday after an inquest into the death of their only child, Luke, 6, outside their home on April 16, 2014.
The inquest at Cork City Coroner’s Court was told that the driver involved, Edmund Walsh, aged 51, of Ballyherode, Ballymacoda, was first issued with a driver’s licence in 1989.
He was reissued with a licence in 2010 without having to resit a driving test despite having suffered two traumatic brain injuries which left him with severe physical and mental impairments and on 18 tablets a day.
Luke’s parents said they hoped the transport minister and other agencies, including the Road Safety Authority, the National Driver Licence Service, Insurance Ireland, and the Irish Medical Organisation, would take note of the case.
“Maybe we can do something to make other people aware. Anything is better than what there is now,” said Mr O’Donovan.
Cork City coroner Philip Comyn heard how Mr O’Donovan was fixing a car radio in the drive outside his home while Luke was playing a computer game inside during the Easter holidays on April 14, 2014.
Luke left the house and crossed the road to see if a friend had arrived home. He suffered fatal injuries when he was struck by a specially adapted automatic Ford Focus driven by Mr Walsh as he crossed the road to return home.
He died in Cork University Hospital two days later from head injuries due to vehicular impact. The jury returned a verdict of accidental death yesterday.
Mr O’Donovan said: “I heard a bang, like a heavy car door slamming, and got a start. I looked left and saw something fall from the sky, and roll twice on the ground. It was only then I realised it was Luke.”
The Ford Focus left the scene. Mr Walsh drove home to ask his elderly father, now deceased, what he should do. When gardaí arrived at the house, Walsh admitted he had been involved in a crash.
Following a lengthy pre-trial process to establish if Mr Walsh would be mentally fit to plead, it was ruled that he was fit to plead, and he pleaded guilty to charges of failing to remain at the scene of an accident and failing to offer assistance to someone injured in the accident.
Last May, Judge Seán Ó Donnabháin imposed a two-year suspended jail sentence and a 10-year driving ban, but Walsh vowed, through his legal team, never to drive again.
The coroner’s court was told yesterday that RSA medical fitness to drive guidelines state that motorists should make the licensing authorities aware of any impairments which could affect their driving.
There is also a responsibility on family members and GPs to flag such issues.
Garda Sergeant John Sharkey said Walsh’s family were quite open about his medical condition.
He said Walsh had suffered significant traumatic brain injury after two falls from a height — one in the 1980s and again in 2006.
The inquest was told that he was deemed medically fit to drive, and that there were two qualifications on his licence when it was renewed in 2010.
“The system failed. Something failed somewhere down the line and we dealt with a driver who obviously wasn’t capable of driving responsibly or of being responsible for their actions like the rest of us are when we get behind the wheel,” said Mr O’Donovan.
Ms O’Donovan said that, given the extent of Walsh’s brain injuries, she and her husband believe people who suffer a traumatic brain injury should have to resit their driving test.
“Because you are different, through no fault of your own, but you are different once you have a brain injury or physical injury. You do change,” said Mr O’Donovan.
“You could roll the clock back and say was this person even fit to be on the road?
“If it had been flagged earlier, he may not have been driving at that moment, at that very second, at that very place.
“We’ll do whatever we can because ultimately, we don’t want another family to be in our situation.”
They said the Walsh family has apologised to them and that Walsh himself apologised through his legal team.
Ms O’Donovan said Walsh has not apologised personally. “He has no attachment to the accident. He’s not able,” she said.
‘Spark of light’ as four lives saved
It’s the one “spark of light” to come out of their “superhero’s” death.
The lives of four people have been transformed following Luke’s parents’ decision to consent to organ donation.
Cork city coroner, Dr Philip Comyn, commended Josephine and Stephen O’Donovan yesterday for their generosity in the face of such tragic circumstances to consent to organ donation in April 2014.
He read into the record of yesterday’s coronial proceedings a letter from the transplant co-ordinator at Beaumont Hospital in Dublin, who outlined what happened to Luke’s organs in the hours after his death.
She said one of his kidneys was received by a 23-year-old man who had been waiting three months for a new kidney and his second kidney was transplanted into a 61-year-old man who had been on dialysis for two years. Both operations were performed in Beaumont.
She said Luke’s liver was transplanted into a 21-year-old woman with cystic fibrosis by a team in St Vincent’s hospital.
And she said Luke’s heart was transplanted into a three-year-old girl in Newcastle.
All four transplant patients are doing well post-operatively, she noted.
Luke’s dad, Stephen, said the news that four people benefitted from his little boy’s organs “is a comfort”.
“It’s a little spark of light,” he said.
“That’s why we enabled Luke to donate. We always taught him that caring is sharing or sharing is caring, and that was the ultimate sharing. He’s our little superhero now and he would have loved that. And hearing that those lives have been changed, that’s what it’s all about.
“That’s what organ donation is about. You gotta be behind that.”
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