Gardaí investigate rally deaths

Gardaí are today investigating the deaths of two marshals struck by a rally car during a race in north-west Ireland.

Gardaí are today investigating the deaths of two marshals struck by a rally car during a race in north-west Ireland.

The two men were named as George Clarke, 22, from Moville, Co Donegal and Gerard McKenna, 22, from Crossmaglen, Co Armagh.

They were among a crowd hit by the car which had jumped a humpback bridge during the Donegal International Rally.

Another man remained in a serious condition in Letterkenny General Hospital following the accident in the Cloghan area of the county, between Ballybofey and Glenties. Two other men, thought to include the driver, suffered minor injuries and were admitted to the hospital.

A garda spokeswoman said: ‘‘There is always a full investigation into any fatality.

‘‘If it is deemed that some kind of offence was committed there would be a file prepared for the Director of Public Prosecutions.’’

She said witnesses and event organisers would be interviewed and statements taken.

But she added: ‘‘It was an organised event and it had clearance from the gardaí. These events are very well organised.’’

A post-mortem examination was carried out on the body of one of the men last night and the second was being conducted today.

Donegal Motor Club, which organised the event, said in a statement: ‘‘Emergency services were immediately on the scene and the event was halted.

"Despite their very best efforts two people were fatally injured.’’ The club confirmed that the dead men had been marshalling the event, which has now been cancelled.

Charlie Collins, of Donegal’s Highland Radio, said cars used the bridge near the crowd as a ‘‘high jump’’.

He said: ‘‘It is a pretty spectacular scene for people who are spectating and the car would be travelling at high speed.

‘‘Spectators watching rallies like to be at points like this where they can see the cars with all four wheels off the road.

"99.9% of the time the car passes safely by and there is a great deal of excitement but unfortunately on this occasion that didn’t happen.’’

He said there had been rain before the stage began causing the teams concerns over which tyres to use.

‘‘The stage, we understand, was pretty slippy and with the speeds involved it only takes the slightest mistake and a tragedy like this can happen,’’ he said.

He added: ‘‘It has never happened in Donegal before so people here are in a big state of shock.

‘‘Spectators, competitors, motor club people and media people are shocked and in complete numbness after what has happened here.’’

Elite drivers, including former British Rally champion Mark Higgins, were among 150 competitors at this year’s event. The rally was called off last year during the height of the foot-and-mouth disease crisis.

After just two hours of racing Andrew Nesbitt was leading the event in a Subaru. The driver of the car involved in the accident was thought to be a well-known local competitor, although his name has not been released.

The Donegal Motor Club added in its statement: ‘‘The organisers of the rally have expressed their deepest sympathy to the families of the dead.

‘‘The remainder of the Donegal International Rally has been cancelled by the organisers.’’

The club said rally sponsor Shell backed the decision to cancel the event.

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