‘Glare from morning sun impaired vision of fatal road collision driver’

Belfast's Old Town Hall Coroners Court
Belfast's Old Town Hall Coroners Court

Glare from the morning sun was a major factor in the death of an elderly male pedestrian crossing a road in Co Down, an inquest has heard.

Crossgar man James ‘Jim’ McCormick, 88, was walking home from a newsagent’s shop in the village when he was struck by a van close to the Westlands estate on the Downpatrick Road.

The fatal collision took place shortly before 10am on January 9, 2013.

Van driver Alan Chivers, 58, gave evidence that, despite wearing sunglasses designed for the brightest of sunlight and travelling within the speed limit, he failed to see Mr McCormick step from the footpath on to the road.

Mr Chivers told coroner Jim Kitson that the sun was “particularly low in the sky” and said: “I did not see the gentleman at all. When I first heard the bang I thought the tyre had blown out, or that I had hit a dog.

“I know in my own heart I was driving within the speed limit. I have no doubt about that,” he added.

Mr McCormick, a former psychiatric nurse, suffered catastrophic injuries including a fractured spine, pelvis, and ribs and died almost immediately.

The life-long Crossgar resident was described by his son as someone who took a keen interest in the history and people of the area.

Maurice McCormick said his father tended to shuffle rather than walk in recent years, but was determined to continue his daily routine of walking to the shop for a newspaper.

“He always took his time and some days would have had his stick with him,” he said.

The coroner also heard from a police witness how the van driver had initially been recommended for prosecution but the Public Prosecution Service eventually offered no evidence and proceedings were halted.

A forensic accident investigator told the inquest that his initial calculation of the driver’s speed - based on the distance the victim came to rest from the van - could not be relied upon as there was no way of knowing how far Mr McCormick was carried on the bonnet after impact.

A second report carried out 12 months later, during almost identical weather conditions, supported the van driver’s version of events.

Senior investigator Gavin Dunne said: “A pedestrian in dark clothes was not clearly visible to me when I visited the scene in similar circumstances.”

The expert investigator said it was likely that Mr McCormick was only three vehicle lengths away from the van as he stepped on to the road.

In his findings, the coroner said: “The driver of the vehicle did not see Mr McCormick prior to the collision.”

Speaking after the hearing, Mr McCormick’s son said the family did not blame the van driver for their father’s death.