Family of Cork sacristan killed on pedestrian crossing hope their father can now rest in peace

Family of Cork sacristan killed on pedestrian crossing hope their father can now rest in peace
Dan O'Connor

The family of a 92-year-old church sacristan who died after an accident on a pedestrian crossing say they hope he can rest in peace after a raft of safety recommendations were made at an inquest yesterday.

Dan O'Connor, who lived in Dundanion, Blackrock, Cork, died at Cork University Hospital on February 9 last, three days after he was involved in an incident with a taxi while crossing at the pedestrian crossing on the Blackrock Rd, outside Ballintemple post office.

The inquest heard that Mr O'Connor suffered fatal head injuries in a fall after an off-duty taxi driver turned his car right from Park Avenue and onto the pedestrian crossing as he was crossing.

It was also told that tram markings governing the crossing had not been replaced following recent roadworks.

Cork City Coroner, Philip Comyn, has now urged Cork City Council to conduct a full review of the Blackrock Rd's junction with Park Ave, and he has also urged local authorities to review road infrastructure at the site of fatal road traffic accidents on non-national roads in their jurisdiction.

The jury heard evidence from motorist Charlie Cuneen, who was driving east along Blackrock Rd at around 2.30pm on February 6, which conflicted with CCTV footage of the incident and with evidence from other witnesses.

Mr Cuneen insisted that he saw Mr O'Connor crossing the Blackrock Rd north to south, that the taxi emerged from Park Ave and stopped to let Mr O'Connor cross.

He said he saw him walk into the front right wing of the taxi, "loose his balance" and fall back. He said he saw blood coming from his head but when others came to Mr O'Connor's aid, he said he left the scene because he did not think it was that serious.

But statements from Deirdre Leahy and Paula Cashell, who were travelling in the opposite direction, tallied with the CCTV footage which showed Mr O'Connor crossing south to north and the taxi swing right onto the pedestrian crossing as Mr O'Connor was just over half-way across.

Ms Cashell said the car did not stop and she saw the pedestrian "suddenly drop".

The jury was shown how Mr O'Connor's aluminium walking stick, which was rated for 125kg, was bent after the incident. They were told it would have required lateral force to fail like that.

The driver of the taxi, Bertie Byrnes, said he was waved out from Park Ave by another motorist, and that he looked right, left and right again before moving off.

He said he believed he was driving "cautiously and in alert fashion" but that he just didn't see Mr O'Connor before the incident. He said a strong sun was also a factor.

"The only time I saw him was when he was lying on the ground, when I got out of my car," he said.

A post mortem by assistant state pathologist, Dr Margot Bolster, found no evidence of injuries consistent with a collision and established the cause of death as traumatic head injuries due to a fall in a pedestrian.

But a report from Public Service Vehicle inspector Garda John White found "evidence of minor nature" to the front right-hand side of the taxi where dust and dirt had been rubbed off the paintwork. The inquest was told that this was most likely a recent occurrence.

Engineer Michael Byrne said the pedestrian crossing is governed by time-controlled 'pelican' lights which allow 15-seconds to cross while more modern sensor-controlled 'puffin' lights stay green until a pedestrian has crossed safely.

He told the coroner that the location of the traffic lights is not in keeping with 'best-practice' and the absence of synched lights to govern the Park Ave exit was not satisfactory.

The jury returned a verdict of accidental death and recommended the installation of a new controlled lights system at the junction to allow people exit Park Ave safely.

It also recommended that the restoration of road markings as soon as possible after road works be part of local authority contracts, and that the restoration should be checked by council engineers.

'It could have been anyone on that crossing'

A light went out in the O'Connor family and in the wider community when Dan O'Connor died, his youngest son said yesterday.

The family of Dan O’Connor attending the inquest into his death in Cork. Left to right: Antoinette, Padraig, Charles and Donal. Picture Michael Mac Sweeney/Provision
The family of Dan O’Connor attending the inquest into his death in Cork. Left to right: Antoinette, Padraig, Charles and Donal. Picture Michael Mac Sweeney/Provision

Padraig O'Connor said he has been in search since of "answers, truth and justice" for his dad.

"Dad should not have died as a result of an accident on a pedestrian crossing," he said.

"Dad was aged 92 when he died but age is irrelevant. It could have been anyone on that crossing, that day."

Mr O'Connor had been living alone since the death of his beloved wife, Nellie, in 2013.

He was living independently, still driving, shopping and cooking, using a smartphone to keep in touch with his family daily, and he was contributing to his community.

He deposited the church collection money at the AIB bank on the Blackrock Rd every Monday.

"He embraced his independence with both hands," Padraig said.

Mr O'Connor was best-known as the voluntary sacristan in St Michael’s Church in Blackrock where he loved the walk-in Christmas crib, the Easter Garden and the Garden of Remembrance in November.

In September 2016, he was presented with the Benemerenti Medal - an honour awarded by the Pope to members of the clergy and laity for service to the Catholic Church.

He was remembered yesterday as a man with a positive outlook, a great sense of humour and wit, and who was very proud of his grandchildren.

They sat with him at CUH as he was dying.

Padraig thanked those who came to his dad's aid on the day of the accident, the paramedics and staff at CUH who cared for him, and the gardaí involved in the investigation.

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