US family died on way to funeral as driver attempted a U-turn, Wexford inquest hears

An inquest has heard how four members of a family died while attempting to do a u-turn on a busy national road.

Four verdicts of accidental death have been recorded in an inquest into the tragic deaths of two Irish American parents and their two sons in a horrific traffic collision in County Wexford in 2017.

Douglas Alexander Snr and his wife Lily (both 75), and their sons Douglas Jnr (52) and Stephen (49) were killed on December 4, 2017, when the BMW rental car they were driving was in a collision with a heavy goods 40ft articulated lorry on the N25 at Begerin Hill, 5km east of New Ross on the Wexford town road, at around 6.25 p.m. that day.

Douglas Snr, a retired building contractor from Strabane, County Tyrone, and Lily, who hailed from Limerick, and their sons - who all lived in Chicago - suffered catastrophic injuries in the accident and died at the scene after Dougals Jnr performed a u-turn on the road.

 Doug Jnr, 52, and 49-year-old Steven Alexander
Doug Jnr, 52, and 49-year-old Steven Alexander

The inquest held at the Brandon House Hotel in New Ross, where the four had dined with relations an hour prior to the accident, was told by Garda Robert Carty that he was alerted to the accident at around 6.30 p.m.

He said the family had flown into Dublin Airport that morning to attend Lily’s sister Winifred (Winnie) Keevey’s funeral Mass at Cushinstown Church, located less than 1 km from the scene of the accident.

The Alexanders met relations Oliver and Mary Prior at the airport and travelled in convoy to their home in Tallaght, having hired the BMW car. They got some rest before travelling to County Wexford.

Travelling in convoy from the Brandon House Hotel, the silver BMW in which all four family members died, was driven by Douglas Alexander Jnr.

Oliver Prior said his wife Mary told him he had missed a turn off as he climbed Begerin Hill. He said as there was plenty of room on the roadside, he decided to pull in.

I could see the Alexander car right behind me. I decided to turn around even though I knew we were going the right way. I had a good view towards Wexford and there was no vehicle coming from that direction.

Mr Prior pulled out onto the N25 and when he looked back he could see the lights of a vehicle in the distance.

"As I pulled out that was the last time I saw the Alexander family. I was still in first gear when I heard the bang. I knew the truck had hit the Alexanders as it could be no one else."

Mary Prior said her mother Winifred Keevey died on December 2.

She recalled the journey to visiting family members in Lacken two days later.

I thought I had missed the turn off as the road was so black. Oliver pulled in by indicating. As we were heading off I saw the bright lights to our right-hand-side and the next thing I heard a bang.

The truck driver, Paul Caulfield, said he was on his way from Youghal driving an empty trailer to the UK and was planning to catch the ferry to Pembroke that night.

Describing road conditions on the N25 as ‘greasy’, Mr Caulfield said: "As I came down the hill I just remember a car shooting in front of me. I didn’t get a fright as I could judge the car was safe enough from me to move on. Then all I saw was lights and then we hit. I slammed the brakes and we went across the central reservation."

Lily Ryan-Alexander and her husband Doug were both 75.
Lily Ryan-Alexander and her husband Doug were both 75.

He recalled being thrown to the other side of the cab and climbing out of the driver’s window to phone the emergency services.

The passenger in the truck Kevin Collins said he notched a car ‘foolishly’ performing a u-turn on Begerin Hill.

"Paul reacted and said 'Jesus Christ'."

He said the BMW pulled out in front of them and was hit side on.

Grace O’Sullivan, a nurse who came upon the scene, said: "When he (Mr Caulfield) got out the lorry driver said repeatedly that there was nothing he could have done, they came straight out in front of me."

Ms O’Sullivan went immediately to the car and looked for a pulse on each of its occupants but couldn’t find any. The air-bags had gone off and she noticed a woman wearing gloves in the back seat.

The lady was getting cold and there was no question she was dead. There was a man lying face down on her lap and he was as cold as her.

She said the only person wearing a seatbelt was Stephen Alexander, a highly decorated police officer with Bolingbrook Police Department in Illinois.

Forensic collision investigator Garda Tom Bolger told the court that the BMW was hit "full on frontal by the truck right across the two doors".

Tachograph records show the truck was travelling at 70 km/h, 10 km/h below the speed limit.

Garda Bolger said an investigation reconstruction showed Douglas Alexander Jnr had an adequate view to see the oncoming truck.

The first view would have allowed the car to clear the path of the Scania truck safely.

Pathologist at University Hospital Waterford Dr Nigam Shah said all four occupants of the BMW died from catastrophic injuries.

County Wexford Coroner Dr Sean Nixon recommended a verdict of accidental death in each case, which jury foreman Victor Furness said the jury concurred with.

Dr Nixon said there was no evidence that Mr Caulfield was responsible for the accident, describing it as a very sad and tragic case.

He said the driver of the car would have been at a major disadvantage having only arrived over from the States that morning and would not have had much rest; adding that being used to driving on the other side of the road, he may have been expecting traffic coming from the left rather than from the right.

The only surviving member of the Alexander family, who were killed in a car accident in County Wexford in 2017, said the truck driver on the day was in her family's daily prayers.

Gardaí at the scene of the crash in Co. Wexford. Pic: Patrick Browne.
Gardaí at the scene of the crash in Co. Wexford. Pic: Patrick Browne.

Debbie Alexander Cegerlak and extended members of the Alexander family urged drivers to exercise extra vigilance and caution on our roads having lost four family members in the tragedy.

In a statement read out at County Wexford Coroner's Court by a solicitor acting on their behalf, the family said: "The events of December 4, 2017, have resulted in a devastating loss for the family. On that date our client Debbie Cegelerek, daughter of Douglas and Lily Alexander and sister of Douglas Junior and Stephen Alexander, lost all of her immediate family members as a result of this tragic accident."

Debbie Cegerlak and Lynn Alexander, wife of Stephen, expressed their gratitude to everyone who came to the assistance of their family following the accident on Begerin Hill three weeks before Christmas 2017.

They thanked members of An Garda Siochana especially for the professionalism and dignity afforded to the family and Grace O'Sullivan, the nurse who came upon the scene.

It is a source of great comfort to the family to know the care afforded by you and the bravery you showed under such difficult circumstances and they are eternally grateful to you for that.

They thanked curate, Fr Roger O'Neill who blessed the four family members at the scene.

The family said there is not a day that goes by when they don't think of the driver, Paul Caulfield and his passenger Kevin Collins.

"We think of you and how difficult this incident must have been for you to encounter. We wish you health and happiness and pray that this accident will not cause you any difficulties into the future."

The family also thanked their extended family in Ireland and America for all of their support in the aftermath of the accident, adding that Douglas Senior and Lily were proud parents and grandparents to six children.

No family should ever have to experience such devastating loss and the family hope that the deaths of four members willl not be in vain and that road users will exercise extra vigilance at all times on the road.

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