Buncrana tragedy: Driver '˜may have been three times over drink-drive limit'

The driver of a car which plunged off a pier in Ireland and killed five people may have been three times over the drink-drive limit, a post-mortem showed.

Wednesday, 22nd November 2017, 4:59 pm
Updated Tuesday, 12th December 2017, 7:40 am
Buncrana Pier tragedy victims: (clockwise from top left) Jodie Lee Tracey (14), Mark (12) and Evan (8) McGrotty, Sean McGrotty and Ruth Daniels.

That could indicate an “element” of intoxication, pathologist Dr Catriona Dillon told an inquest in Buncrana, Co Donegal.

Sean McGrotty, 49, was found to have consumed 159 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood, when the drink drive limit is only 50.

Evan McGrotty, aged eight, died alongside his father Sean, 12-year-old brother Mark, grandmother Ruth Daniels, 59, and her 14-year-old daughter, Jodie Lee Daniels, when their SUV sank after sliding off a “slippery as ice” slipway in Buncrana in March 2016.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Dr Dillon said: “I cannot say what level of impairment the driver had, that depends on was he habitual, was he accustomed.”

The only survivor in the Londonderry family was a baby girl. Her mother was away on a hen weekend.

Former footballer Davitt Walsh swam out into the harbour in an effort to save the six occupants of the Audi Q7 and rescued the infant.

Mr McGrotty handed his four-month-old daughter Rionaghac-Ann to Mr Walsh through the broken driver’s side window just moments before the vehicle sank.

Mr Walsh failed to save another child.

He said: “I saw a young boy inside the car trying to clamber out past the driver.

“I reached in and grabbed the wee boy, I tried to pull the wee boy out, but he seemed to get stuck on something.

“When the driver sat on the window ledge I remember the car tilted and the water then started to gush into the car.”

By the time RNLI lifesavers and police reached the scene, the car had disappeared into Lough Swilly and the victims were floating in the water, eye witness Francis Crawford told an inquest into the tragedy.

He put the time emergency services took to arrive at 12 minutes; gardai said they were on the scene within four or five minutes.

Mr Crawford added: “The car was floating, bobbing in the water, 10 to 15 yards from the slipway, and slowly floating, bobbing off to the right of the slipway.

“I could still hear people and the child screaming from the car, all the time the car must have been taking on water.

“I was hoping that the emergency services would arrive and the car would not go down.”

He added: “I could hear sirens, the nose of the car dipped...and the car sank to the bottom.”

Green algae had covered the slipway.

The first witness to the inquest in Buncrana added: “It was treacherous to walk on, slippery as ice.”

A gate has since been locked closed, barring access to the slipway, and extra life buoys placed nearby.

John McLaughlin, a director at Donegal County Council, admitted no signs had been installed warning the slipway could be slippery.

A lawyer put it to him: “Nothing has changed, nothing will change.”