A taxi driver was killed after his cab veered off the M50 in Dublin for no apparent reason and crashed into a broken-down truck parked on the hard shoulder of the motorway, an inquest has heard.
The driver, Michael Sterio (70) a married father of six of Garthy Wood, Knocklyon, Co. Dublin, died instantly as a result of the collision which occurred on the southbound side of the M50 between Junction 12 (Firhouse) and Junction 13 (Dundrum/Sandyford) at around 2.40pm on September 8, 2020.
A sitting of Dublin District Coroner’s Court on Tuesday heard evidence from several eye-witnesses that the victim’s silver Renault Fluence suddenly veered off the left lane of the motorway into the hard shoulder.
A driver with Kilsaran Concrete, Denis Joyce, told the inquest how he had parked on the hard shoulder of the M50 after suffering a blow-out of one of the tyres on his Scandia tipper truck which he was using to transport a load of stones from a quarry.
Mr Joyce said he was sitting in the passenger seat of his truck waiting for assistance for about 15 minutes when he heard a bang at the back of the vehicle. When he went to find out what happened, Mr Joyce said he found a car underneath his truck with a man slumped across the steering wheel.
Mr Joyce told the coroner, Cróna Gallagher, that his truck was completely parked off the M50 on the hard shoulder.
A motorist who was travelling directly behind Mr Sterio’s taxi, Gillian Comerford, said she saw the vehicle veer towards the hard shoulder and crash into the back of the truck.
“It was very smoothly done. It was just drifting. There was no indicator,” she added.
Ms Comerford said there was no sign of the taxi slowing down until about one second before the crash when she saw its brake lights go on. Following the collision, she remarked that the front of the taxi was “non-existent.”
Another motorist, Sinead Young, who was driving in the southbound middle lane of the M50 approximately parallel with the taxi, said she also saw it suddenly veer towards the hard shoulder. She believed the taxi driver was going at the same speed as herself which was around 80km/h on a stretch of the motorway with a 100km/h speed limit.
Ms Young said the truck in the hard shoulder did not have any hazard lights on to warn traffic and noted the crash happened “in a flash”. A paramedic who was alerted to the collision by the eyewitnesses, Ken O’Dwyer, said Mr Sterio was “beyond medical help” at the scene.
The inquest heard tests showed both the victim’s taxi and the truck were in good mechanical condition. A forensic collision investigator, Garda Barry McCormack, said he found no evidence to explain why the deceased’s vehicle had veered off onto the hard shoulder.
Neither the weather conditions nor road surface were contributory factors in the crash. While there was a bend on the M50 at the crash site, Garda McCormack said Mr Sterio would have naturally veered towards the overtaking lanes of the M50 rather than the hard shoulder if he had been distracted while driving.
The witness said it was most likely that Mr Sterio had not lost conscious control of his vehicle. “The use of the brake light shows there was conscious control,” he observed.
In response to questions from the coroner, Garda McCormack said there was no evidence to suggest Mr Sterio had veered in response to a driving manoeuvre by another motorist. Garda McCormack said it was not possible to calculate the speed at which the taxi driver was driving at the time of the collision.
The investigating garda, Patrick Tarrant, said no criminal prosecution had arisen from the case. Garda Tarrant told the inquest that a mobile phone, which Mr Sterio was believed to have with him at the time of the crash, was never located at the scene.
Mr Sterio’s wife, Mairéad, said he had been in good form with nothing out of the ordinary earlier that day.
The results of a post-mortem showed the victim had died from multiple traumatic injuries consistent with a road traffic collision. Dr Gallagher said the autopsy had found no evidence to suggest he had suffered some acute medical event that might have contributed to what happened, while alcohol was not a factor.
Based on the evidence, the coroner returned an open verdict “to reflect the gap in the evidence despite everyone’s best efforts,” as she claimed it was not possible to fully rule out several possible scenarios.
“It’s unclear why this has happened,” Dr Gallagher acknowledged. “We don’t know what caused him to make that sudden movement. It happened in a split second with catastrophic consequences.”
Addressing the inquest to thank all the witnesses, gardaí and emergency services, a representative of the Sterio family said they had never held the truck driver responsible in any way for what happened.