Coroner warns of escalator dangers following death of elderly man

A CORONER warned of the dangers of using escalators yesterday after hearing how a simple stumble led to the tragic death of an elderly man.

Patrick Walsh, 82, from Muskerry Estate in Ballincollig, Co Cork, died on September 10 last just days after falling down an escalator in Debenhams department store in Mahon Point, Cork.

Cork City Coroner’s Court heard how Mr Walsh and his wife, Freda, were on a shopping trip to the store on Saturday, September 6, when the accident occurred.

Mrs Walsh boarded the moving stairs first to get to the ground floor and was about four steps in front of her husband when he tried to get on.

She said they had used its escalators before without incident.

However, Mr Walsh, who walked with the aid of a stick and who had poor eyesight, apparently stumbled and fell past his wife, down the stairs to the floor below. Mrs Walsh told city coroner Dr Myra Cullinane that it all happened very quickly.

She said she reached out to try and stop her husband’s fall and tried to grab his jacket, but he fell all the way to the bottom and was knocked unconscious.

He suffered a fractured wrist and ribs, and fractured a bone in his neck.

Debenhams staff trained in first aid arrived to help and first-aider Julie Carey said once they stabilised Mr Walsh, he began to regain consciousness.

But she said they had to wait up to 30 minutes for an ambulance to arrive because of traffic snarl ups around Mahon Point, she said.

Mr Walsh was rushed to Cork University Hospital but died four days later.

A postmortem showed that while his head injuries were not fatal, they did lead to his hospitalisation and when combined with his extensive natural disease, it made him more prone to infection.

The coroner said the fall precipitated his death and she recorded a verdict of accidental death.

Debenhams manager Louise Murphy said there are warning signs at the top of the escalators warning people with buggies and kiddie carts not to use them.

Despite this, Ms Murphy, said in a previous incident, a woman lost control of her child’s buggy while on the escalator. It crashed to the ground, but luckily, the child and mother escaped injury.

But Ms Murphy could not say for certain whether or not there were specific warning signs for the elderly or for people of restricted mobility.

Dr Cullinane said she would write to the store to highlight this issue.

“This case highlights the perils of getting on an escalator when mobility is restricted or when using a buggy,” she said.

“The wiser option is to use a lift in these circumstances. A simple stumble led to this tragic outcome.”

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