A man who lost his wife and daughter when they drowned after being pushed into a flooded dyke by another motorist recalled how he listened to Bob Dylan’s ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’ and thought how it reflected the tragedy of road deaths.
Noel Clancy told Cork Circuit Criminal Court in his victim impact statement how he was in a daze at the funeral Mass for wife Geraldine and daughter Louise after they were killed in a car crash on December 22, 2015, when the choir sang the Dylan anthem, which was a favourite of Louise’s.
“I could see Louise singing and playing her guitar — the words might well be the story of road collisions in Ireland: How many deaths will it take to know that too many people have died — the answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind,” he said.
Mr Clancy told how he and his other children, Fiona and Declan had gone to the funeral home in Fermoy for a rosary the day after his wife and daughter were killed following a crash in which their car was hit by a car driven by their neighbour, Susan Gleeson, near their home in Kilworth, Co Cork.
“That evening the rosary was said in the funeral home,” he said. “When we went in and saw the coffins side by side, my heart broke. I pushed the coffins apart and knelt between them and put my left hand on Geraldine’s clasped hands and my right hand on Louise’s and cried for my wife and daughter.”
Mr Clancy recalled how Louise had overcome autism to study English and Sociology at UCC. She had hoped to become a journalist and had just returned home from her Erasmus year at University of Sussex for Christmas when the crash happened.
And he recalled how, on Christmas Day, three days after they were killed, the undertaker asked him a question about the funeral which he hoped he would never have to ask any other family ever again.
“He asked me: ‘Which coffin will we lower first?’ While most people were enjoying Christmas with their families, I was trying to make a decision,” said Mr Clancy. “I phoned him back and told him that we would lower Geraldine first and place Louise back in her arms.”
Fiona Clancy spoke about how her sister’s life had been cut short and how she would never get to graduate from university or achieve her goals of working as a journalist and travelling the world as she had dreamed of doing.
“She will never get engaged or married or be a mother,” said Ms Clancy. “She will never get to celebrate another birthday or Christmas or family occasion or spend time with her many dear friends. She will never smile, laugh, or breathe again. Instead she will spend the rest of eternity in her grave, aged just 22.
“The weekends when I get home now are so strange. Our home will never feel the same again. Instead I go to their grave on these weekends, it is still beyond surreal to see their names and a date of death on their headstone. I cannot believe it.”
Declan Clancy also spoke of the impact of the tragedy on him, describing how the grief is all-consuming, likening it to a tidal wave crashing over him until he is left paralysed to the point that he struggles at work to come to terms with the loss.
“And now when I go home, I’m struck by a deafening silence,” he said. “No longer am I greeted excitedly by Louise telling me about her latest adventure in college or by a loving hug from my Mam.
“Instead as I sit the kitchen table, I stare across a two empty chairs where they should be.
“The thought of my mother and sister screaming for their lives, knowing that they were going to drown tortures me every night. The nlghtmares leave me physically exhausted. I hear their screams, I see them die again and again.”
Noel Clancy’s comments after court
We have always known that my wife Geraldine was a safe careful driver and we knew that she was in no way responsible for the collision. Today this has been publically recognised by the court.
Regardless of the sentence handed down to the defendant, Geraldine and Louise are dead and they are in their graves for all eternity. We miss them greatly and we are serving a life sentence of loss without them.
I think it is important to reflect on the question — on any given day how many learner drivers are on the roads of Ireland unaccompanied and how many parents or family members allow their cars to be driven by these drivers?
I am calling on the minister for transport to implement legislation so that allowing one’s car to be driven by an unaccompanied learner driver is an offence and would make the car owner and driver equally accountable in law.
Finally, we would like to thank our relatives, friends and neighbours for their kindness, the gardaí for their professionalism and the wider community for their support.
Student avoids jail after fatal crash
- Liam Heylin
A student whose dangerous driving caused the death of a mother and daughter last Christmas was banned yesterday from driving for 15 years and given a suspended jail sentence.
Judge Seán Ó Donnabháin sentenced Susan Gleeson, aged 21, of Kilworth, Co Cork, at Cork Circuit Criminal Court on the single charge of dangerous driving causing the death of Geraldine Clancy, 58, and her daughter, Louise Ann, 22, on December 22 last year near Ballyderown on the Fermoy-Kilworth-Ballyduff road.
The judge said inexperience, inattention, and dangerously driving on to the incorrect side of the road caused the accident but there was an absence of aggravating factors such as speed, alcohol, or use of a phone.
Judge Ó Donnabháin said the car was flipped over into a flooded drain and the victims drowned. He said the consequent grief for the family of the victims was at the limits of human endurance. Imposing a suspended sentence, he said it was a difficult balancing act to meet the needs of the community and give public recognition to the harm that was done.
Sergeant John McNamara said the one thing he wanted to make absolutely clear was that Mrs Clancy was 100% blameless in her driving on the day of the fatal accident.
On the morning of the accident, at around 11am, Louise Clancy was on her way to UCC to complete an assignment. She was just home for the holidays from her Erasmus year atthe University of Sussex. Her mother was dropping her into Fermoy to get a bus into the city. Meanwhile, Ms Gleeson was driving from her home to collect her dad. She had a dental appointment and was thinking of where she would park. She was a learner driver, only driving since February, and should have been accompanied by an experienced driver under the terms of her learner driver permit. She had done nine of her 12 compulsory driving lessons.
Ms Gleeson believed that she could make the turn onto the main Fermoy-Ballyduff road. She passed the ‘Yield right of way’ sign and came out onto the main road, where her carriageway was clear, but she went out too far, crossing into the path of the oncoming car driven by Mrs Clancy on her side of the road.
Sgt McNamara said that there had been a gap in the wall for many years. In the collision, the Clancys’ car flipped over and went through this gap, down an embankment, and into a flooded trench not much wider than the car, thereby wedging the car in the drain, which was flooded to a height of 82 centimetres.
Sgt McNamara said another driver close to the scene described seeing the defendant’s car appearing to be out of control as it went through the junction without stopping, causing the Clancys’ Ford Focus to flip over through the wall into the flooded drain.
“The car landed inside it, upside down in the flooded drain. There was .82 metres of water in the drain,” said Sgt McNamara.
Emergency services were called but neighbours arrived on the scene first.
“Screams could be heard from the car,” Sgt McNamara said. “Louise Clancy reached her hand back to off-duty soldier Sean O’Grady. She squeezed his hand for a short time. It stopped and she became lifeless.
“Noel Clancy arrived on the scene unaware who was involved. He assisted in the recovery. Noel Clancy stood on the inverted bonnet of the car just as it was about to be lifted.”
The fire brigade then arrived on the scene and took over the recovery operation but both women in the car were dead. Mr Clancy did not recognise the victims, as their complexions were purplish and their hair was wet and dishevelled.
Mr Clancy remarked to a neighbour that it was the same model as his own car. It was only later that he saw the registration number on the car and realised that the two people in the car were his wife and daughter. Both were declared dead at the scene, with the cause of death given as drowning.
Mr Clancy rang his daughter, Fiona, from the side of the road, saying: “Fi, there’s been a car crash at ‘the blind bridge’, there’s a car in the water, it’s Mom and Louise, I think they are drowned, come quick.”
Fiona Clancy told the court that when worst was confirmed, the words were like knives in her stomach and she doubled over, screaming in grief.
Sgt McNamara questioned Ms Gleeson, a law student, about what happened that morning.
She said: “I took the turn and collided with an on-coming car. The front of my car struck the right of the oncoming car.
“I did not have my full concentration. My mind was not on the road. I was thinking of my dental appointment and how I was going to park.”
Ms Gleeson, who went to school with Louise Clancy, wept throughout yesterday’s lengthy sentencing hearing, at which she was accompanied by her parents.
Sgt McNamara described the Clancy and Gleeson families as both being extremely decent families.
Ms Gleeson said: “I want to apologise to Noel, Fiona, and Declan on their loss of Louise and Geraldine. I never meant for this to happen. It haunts me every day.
“I think about them and the heartache I caused them. There are no words to say how sorry I am.”
Medical reports confirmed that the accused was overwhelmed distraught and emotionally fragile following the accident and was in a state of near panic all the time.
“There are days she wishes she had died, she genuinely regrets it,” said defence senior counsel James O’Mahony. “She is utterly terrified of the consequences of a custodial sentence.
“There but for the grace of God go so many people who make mistakes on the road.”
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