A man who believed he was fleeing from a “devil” who wanted to “possess” him, collided with a car in a head-on impact, resulting in the death of the other driver, a 73 year old grandfather, the victim’s inquest heard today.
Hans Schnottalla, (51), with an address at Ballycarney, Clarina, Co Limerick, was not taking his medication for a previously diagnosed “psychosis” condition, prior to the collision, on February 24, 2015, the inquest heard.
Several witnesses told Gardai they saw Mr Schnottalla drive into the path of Patrick ‘Sonny” O’Reilly’s car, which had been stationary or almost stationary at the time.
The two-car collision occurred in Clarina as Mr Schnottalla was bringing his five year old son to school in Ballybrown.
Mr O’Reilly, from nearby Ferrybridge, was making his way from the same school where he had dropped two of his grandchildren.
One witness said they saw Mr Schnottalla driving like “he was on a mission”. Another said he looked “like a man possessed”.
One man said Mr Schnottalla’s car overtook him and continued on the wrong side of the road before colliding with the victim’s car. Mr O’Reilly died at the scene.
Witnesses said they heard Mr Schnottalla roaring and shouting, and saw him punching the windscreen of his car immediately after the collision. He then walked away from the scene, leaving his distressed son in their car.
Gardai arrested Mr Schnottalla a short distance away.
He was taken by ambulance to the psychiatric unit at University Hospital Limerick where he spent a number of days before being questioned by Gardai about the fatal collision.
He was subsequently charged with dangerous driving causing Mr O’Reilly’s death, and a jury found him not guilty by reason of insanity, in what was believed to be first ever such verdict in the State, in relation to a dangerous driving case.
The trial heard Mr Schnottalla believed he was fleeing from a devil who wanted to possess him.
In her inquest deposition, Mr Schnottalla’s wife, Annette Langenbacher, who did not attend today’s hearing, expressed concerns about her husband’s behaviour, leading up to, and on the morning of the collision.
She said her husband was diagnosed with a “psychosis” condition but had “stopped taking his medication”, three years prior to the crash, as it “made him tired”.
She was the sole breadwinner and her husband was responsible for bringing their son to and from school, household chores, and cooking dinner.
However she said she “noticed signs that he was unwell” and he had “seemed to have lost focus”.
Mr Schnottalla was “not attending a doctor in Ireland for his condition” but was in receipt of a prescription for his medication from a doctor in Germany.
Ms Langenbacher said her husband promised to start taking his medication again.
She said she was “conscious of how he was in the last couple of days” before the crash, and he appeared to be in a confused state.
She arrived at work at 7.55am and rang her husband at 8.05am to check if he was okay to drop their son to school, he replied that he was.
Following the collision the couple’s son was found bleeding from his nose in the car and had to be consoled at the scene by locals.
Mick Reidy, a Garda collision investigator, said the condition of Mr Schnottalla’s seatbelt, which he had been wearing, indicated he had been “slumped” or “leaning forward” in his seat at the time of the collision.
In response to a question from the coroner the Garda said it was possible Mr Schnottalla “could” have fallen asleep at the wheel.
“I’ve come across it over the years,” he added.
Coroner, John McNamara initially said he was going to record a verdict of accidental death, however after hearing a submission from Francis O’Reilly, a son of the victim, he returned an open verdict.
Francis O’Reilly argued in his submission that Mr Schnottalla may have possibly have been reaching for a mobile phone around the time of the collision.
Garda Reidy said he had no information as to whether or not Mr Schnottalla may have had a mobile phone in the car at the time.
The coroner described Francis O’Reilly’s theory as “a reasonable proposition”.
A post mortem found Patrick O’Reilly died from cardio respiratory failure secondary to head injuries that were consistent with having being involved in a road traffic collision.
Speaking afterwards Francis O’Reilly said: “In my opinion it wasn’t an accident. We have our own thinking about what happened. Today all we got was a choice, an accident or leave it open.”
He praised Gardaí for doing “a great job” but that the family was “disappointed with the justice system”, which he said “has failed us miserably”.
“We’ve no answers. There’s no closure. It’s open, and while it’s open there is some bit of drive in us to keep it going and hopefully we might save someone else’s life, we’ll try.”
He said his family are still utterly heartbroken.
“It’s unreal, you could not explain it, you couldn’t try. I wouldn’t wish it on no-one. All the people who are ill in this country I have the greatest sympathy for them, and that man I have no problems with him, he is an ill man.”
“Hopefully he can be reunited with his family, I can’t. The only time I’ll be reunited is, if I pass away.”
Mr O’Reilly said his father was “a giver”, and added: “He was killed doing what he liked doing, helping people. He offered to take the two (grandchildren) to school. He was a community man. was a lovely man. He would want us to keep asking questions because we still haven’t got answers.”