Crash Inquest: Father’s impassioned plea for tough L-driver controls

A man whose wife and daughter died in a freak road traffic accident has called on the transport minster to give gardaí the power to impound cars driven by unaccompanied learner drivers. 

Noel Clancy made the impassioned plea after a double inquest into the deaths of his wife, Geraldine, aged 58, and daughter Louise, aged 22, following an accident involving an unaccompanied learner driver in North Cork in 2015.

Noel Clancy made the impassioned plea after a double inquest into the deaths of his wife, Geraldine, aged 58, and daughter Louise, aged 22, following an accident involving an unaccompanied learner driver in North Cork in 2015.

“If ever there was an example of a case of why the law requires that learner permit holders to be accompanied at all times, then this is it,” said Mr Clancy.

Ms Clancy and Louise, from the townland of Leitrim, near Kilworth, Fermoy, in Co Cork, both died from acute cardiorespiratory failure due to drowning following a road traffic accident after their Ford Focus was struck by an Opel Vectra driven by a neighbour, Susan Gleeson, on the R666 Ballyduff to Fermoy road just after 11am on December 22, 2015.

Ms Gleeson, who was alone while driving her father’s car, failed to make a left turn at a junction and drove onto the Clancy’s side of the road, striking their car and shunting it through a gap in a roadside wall, where it overturned and fell roof first into a flooded drain.

The two women drowned in the upturned car before they could be rescued.

Tragically, Mr Clancy, who came upon the accident moments later, was among those who tried to help before he realised the victims were his wife and daughter.

Ms Gleeson received a three-year suspended jail sentence at Cork Circuit Criminal Court last year after pleading guilty to dangerous driving causing the deaths. She wept in the witness box yesterday as coroner Dr Michael Kennedy was told she had been driving for about eight months, and had had nine driving lessons, before the fatal accident.

In her statement, she said she misjudged the bend, and said she did not have her full concentration on the road. She apologised directly to the Clancy family and said she never meant for this to happen. “It was an accident. Every day I think about it,” she said.

Mr Clancy said he could not accept her apology and his family have been sentenced to a “lifetime of loss”.

He urged Transport Minister Shane Ross to move quickly, before the end of the year, on the recommendation from the inquest jury that gardaí be given the powers to impound cars being driven by unaccompanied learner drivers.

He also said Cork County Council plans to replace the broken wall at the crash site within weeks, and he hopes to incorporate a memorial plaque there in honour of his wife and daughter.

 

‘No words can provide any comfort’

A man whose wife and daughter died in a freak road traffic accident hopes their deaths will result in new road safety improvements before the end of the year.

Noel Clancy made his comments yesterday after a double inquest into the deaths of Geraldine and Louise Clancy, from Kilworth, Fermoy, North Cork, following a crash on the R666 Ballyduff to Fermoy road just after 11am on December 22, 2015.

The inquest established that Ms Clancy, aged 58, and Louise, aged 22, both died from acute cardiorespiratory failure due to drowning following a road traffic accident after their Ford Focus was struck by an Opel Vectra driven by a neighbour, Susan Gleeson, who failed to make a left turn in her father’s car at a yield junction.

She had been driving for about eight months and had nine driving lessons before the accident.

She lost control of the Vectra, which veered onto the Clancys’ side of the road and struck the Focus, shunting it through a 3.5m missing section of roadside wall, where it overturned and fell roof first into a flooded 2.4m wide drain.

Several people tried to help but they could not open the car doors, which were jammed against the sides of the narrow drain. The women drowned in 82cm of water before they could be freed.

Susan Gleeson: ‘It was an accident. Every day I think about it.’ Picture: Cork Courts Limited

Ms Gleeson, who was 21 at the time, received a three-year suspended jail sentence at Cork Circuit Criminal Court last November after pleading guilty to dangerous driving causing the deaths. She was also disqualified from driving for 15 years.

In her statement read at the inquest, Ms Gleeson said she thought she could make the left turn in her father’s car, where the R667 meets the R666, but misjudged the bend.

“I thought I could make the turn and stay on my side, but I took the turn too wide.

“It happened in a split second. I felt it wasn’t that strong an impact,” she said.

“I was not speeding. I was too fast for that junction. I misjudged the junction. I didn’t have my full concentration on the road.”

Witness Edmund Dick said that, in his opinion, the Vectra was travelling at excessive speed for the junction.

The inquest also heard how Mr Clancy came upon the accident moments later and helped neighbours lift the trapped car free using telescopic loaders, unaware that his wife and daughter were the people trapped inside.

He said he did not recognise the women as fire fighters administered CPR and only realised the full scale of the tragedy when he saw the registration plate on the car.

“When I saw the number plate, I knew it was our car, and that the woman and girl were Geraldine and Louise. I knew Louise was dead. They were working on Geraldine and they were getting lots of water out of her mouth I said ‘come on Geraldine, you can do it’,” he said.

However, both women were pronounced dead at the scene at 12.20pm.

Ms Gleeson apologised directly to the Clancy family from the witness box yesterday and said she never meant for this to happen.

“It was an accident. Every day I think about it,” she said. However, Mr Clancy said he could not accept her apology.

“She willingly, knowingly broke the law. She’s a law student. She must have known that she was breaking the law,” he said.

“She admitted today that if somebody was with her [in the car] it might not have happened.

“Where was the car owner, why the did the car owner allow her to drive the car?”

The jury recommended that the transport minister give gardaí the power to impound cars being driven by unaccompanied learner drivers, and further recommended that the gap in the wall at the accident site — which has been there since 2009 at least — be repaired as quickly as possible.

Mr Clancy said he understands that Cork County Council plans to start that work within weeks, and that he hopes to incorporate a memorial plaque at the scene.

The yield junction has since been made a stop junction, the inquest was told.

Coroner Dr Michael Kennedy offered his condolences to the Clancy family, and paid tribute to Mr Clancy for his road safety eforts, which resulted before Christmas in amendments to road traffic law which makes the owners of cars accountable if they allow their vehicle to be driven by an unaccompanied learner driver.

“In a split second, two family members lost their lives, and another person’s life has been ruined forever,” he said.

“No words can provide any comfort but I hope the jury recommendations will bring you some comfort and that the conclusion of this process will help in the healing process,” he said.

Dad: Louise wanted to make life better for everyone

Noel Clancy said he and his family are living a lifetime of loss but he believes his late daughter, Louise, would have been pleased by the outcome of yesterday’s inquest which he said will, if implemented, save lives on Irish roads.

The jury urged the transport minister to give gardaí powers to impound cars being driven by unaccompanied learner drivers.

Louise Ann, 22, and Geraldine Clancy: Both died from acute cardiorespiratory failure due to drowning following a road traffic accident. Picture: Provision

Speaking outside Mallow courthouse after the inquest, and flanked by his daughter Fiona and son Declan, he said: “I think Louise would have been delighted with that. She wanted to make life better for everybody.

“It is a small thing. It’s too late for us, but hopefully it will save lives somewhere down the road.”

However, after a year during which 188 people died on Irish roads, he said people are still flouting the law every day by allowing learner drivers to drive unaccompanied.

“I have stood at the crash scene and wondered how was my wife Geraldine, who was a careful and safe driver, so unfortunate as to encounter another road user who made decisions and took risks with total disregard for the safety and lives of others,” he said.

“If ever there was an example of a case of why the law requires that learner permit holders to be accompanied at all times, then this is it.”

However, he said you could find dozens of cars with L plates in the car parks of local secondary schools, or third-level institutions in Cork.

“How did they arrive there this morning? Were they accompanied by a qualified driver?” he asked.

“Parents, young people are not obeying the law.

“We would hope that the gardaí would be very proactive with the amendment passed holding car owners responsible. If there is a fear in people that they are going to be caught, that they are going to be prosecuted, maybe they won’t do it.”

He also criticised Kerry TD Michael Healy-Rae for his recent comments on new drink-driving proposals.

“I would be happier to see the Healy-Raes representing their constituents by looking for further methods of road safety and not by allowing people with alcohol in their system to drive cars,” he said.

And as the inquest marked the final day of the State’s involvement in the investigation into the deaths of his wife and daughter, Mr Clancy thanked the gardaí, fire and ambulance crews, the witnesses and those who helped in the rescue operation on the day of the crash.


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