A grieving mother broke down in court on Wednesday as an eye-witness recalled the moment her five-year-old son was killed as he cycled close to his home in north Belfast.
Conor O’Neill had pleaded with his mum to let him have 10 minutes outside on his bike before heading to school on a bright summer morning in June 2014.
An inquest hearing in Belfast heard how the child was cycling near his home at Rosehead in the Oldpark area when he was involved in collision with a Vauxhall Astra being driven by a neighbour.
Conor’s mum Ciara Mailey wept uncontrollably as another neighbour, Collette Quinn, explained how Conor attempted to steer his bike away from danger but was struck and run over by the car.
Ms Quinn, who was walking her own children to school on the adjacent footpath, said: “I could see the panic on his face. He knew he was going to crash.”
She said Ms Mailey had come out to look for Conor and was approaching the scene shortly before 9am on June 11. Ms Quinn said she heard Ms Mailey scream out ‘Collette no ... tell me no” as the car struck the child.
Coroner Suzanne Anderson heard evidence from a forensic scientist that the Vauxhall car being driven by Charlene Glackin was turning left at a junction on the edge of the main housing development.
Emerson Callendar said marks on the road, caused by the child’s bicycle being dragged under the car, indicated that the vehicle had not completed the intended 90-degree turn when the crash occurred, and was travelling at no more than 15mph.
Based on this observation, Mr Callendar said the pillar between the front passenger side door and windscreen, along with the passenger-side wing mirror, could have “substantially obscured” the driver’s view of Conor coming towards her.
“The car was travelling at a low speed when the collision occurred,” Mr Callendar said.
Conor suffered lacerations to his brain and a fractured skull which were described as “non survivable”.
The specialist accident investigator was adamant the point of impact was prior to the Vauxhall car reaching the give way line between the two roads, despite both the driver’s statement and Ms Quinn’s evidence indicating that the turn had been completed, or almost completed, at the time.
When this evidence was put to the scientist by barrister Nick Jones representing Conor’s family, Mr Callendar replied: “In my opinion that is clearly not the case.”
Ms Quinn also told the court that her own four-year-old son had been knocked down by a car at the same junction one week before the fatal accident but had escaped with minor injuries.
Having composed herself to give evidence, Ms Mailey also told the coroner she had been in a position to see that the Vauxhall had turned the corner before the accident.
“My child had no chance,” Ms Mailey added.
Concluding the inquest with her findings, the coroner said witnesses had given evidence to the best of their recollections, but she said witnesses in general “often get distances and movements of vehicles and people mixed up”.
Ms Anderson said: “Physical evidence showed marks on the road where Conor’s bike first hit the ground.”