A priest in joyful mood after learning he wasn’t to be transferred to another parish was knocked down and killed in Cork by an out-of-control bus as he left a lunch with his parish secretary, an inquest has heard.
The driver had suffered a cardiac episode which also resulted in his death.
The joint inquests into the deaths of Fr Con Cronin (72) and father of two Mark Wills (51) was heard in Midleton courthouse in Co Cork.
The inquest heard from Harbour Parishes parish secretary, Catherine Concannon, who went for lunch with Fr Cronin in the Bosun Restaurant in Monkstown at 12.40pm on August 3, 2021.
She said that Fr Cronin was “extremely happy” as he had learned that he was to remain in the Harbour Parishes of Passage West and Monkstown in Cork.
The pair left the restaurant at about 1.30pm as Ms Concannon had an appointment that afternoon and Fr Cronin “was concerned” she might miss it.
Ms Concannon said they were about halfway across the road when she saw a bus “speeding across the road” onto the footpath.
“The bus was scraping the wall at speed. I thought ‘Why is the bus parking the wrong side of the road?’ Next thing I remember was the bus had passed me and I was standing on my own screaming ‘Where is Fr Con?’.
"A girl was on the phone crying. I went around looking for Con. I saw the blood under the bus. (A man) was comforting me and shielding me from the bus.”
The inquest also heard from Rosemary O’Connor who was having lunch on the afternoon of the accident outside the Bosun. She saw Ms Concannon and Fr Cronin as they left the restaurant.
As he passed, Fr Cronin addressed her and her husband Maurice and said: “Isn’t it beautiful here? It is like living in the Caribbean.”
She said that her husband told Fr Con that it was “better (than the Caribbean) because you don’t have to get on a plane.”
She and her husband then witnessed the crash which she recalled “happened so fast".
The jury was also read a statement from Des Tobin whom the inquest heard had miraculously saved the life of his 13 year-old daughter Vivienne in the incident.
He was getting his fishing gear out of his car when he saw a bus coming towards him and his daughter.
He pushed Vivienne out of danger. He said the bus had “just missed him".
“Vivienne was taken to CUH and released the following day. She was bleeding form the mouth and the foot.”
Evidence was also heard from Keith Fitzgibbon who was at the scene on the day.
He heard the sound of a crash behind him after the bus had gone to the wrong side of the road.
He saw the bus go on to the footpath and then careering into parked cars.
“I watched it as it came to a stop. I saw a young girl lying on the footpath. I saw the driver slumped over the steering wheel. I went to the driver's window. I leaned it and felt for a pulse. I couldn’t find a pulse."
The inquest also involved evidence from Dr Margaret Bolster who said that a post mortem indicated that Mark Wills had died after he suffered a cardiac arrthymia whilst driving the bus.
The inquest also heard that all of his medical checks with Bus Éireann were up to date and that he had passed them all.
Dr Bolster said that Fr Cronin died of blunt force trauma with severe chest trauma in keeping with a collision.
The inquest also heard evidence from a forensic crash investigator, Garda Ray Sweeney, who said that the bus had entered the wrong sideof the road hitting five parked cars. The bus mounted a footpath and struck a wall.
He said that it was “remarkably fortunate” that other people weren’t struck in the incident. He noted that the actions of Mr Tobin “saved his life and his daughter’s life".
“What he did was unbelievable. He grabbed the child and flung the child (out of harm's way) and then ran himself.”
The court also heard from various garda investigators who concluded that the bus was roadworthy and had no issues on the day. The bus was travelling for just 55 seconds when the collision occurred and it was going at a maximum speed of 38 kilometres per hour.
CCTV footage had shown Mr Wills unresponsive at the wheel whilst the bus went out of control. The jury concluded that Mr Wills died of natural causes whilst a verdict of accidental death was recorded in relation to Fr Cronin.