Driver was over legal drink driving limit, inquest hears

Cheryl Sanders
November 22, 2017

The man who called emergency services when he saw a auto in the water off Buncrana pier past year told the inquests into the deaths of the five people who lost their lives that the Audi Q7 sank around 12 minutes after he dialled 999.

Inside was the driver, Sean McGrotty, 49, his two sons Mark, 12 and Evan, 8, and his girlfriend Louise James's mother, Ruth Daniels, 59, and sister, Jodie-Lee, 14.

Francis Crawford, the first person to the scene to see the family's jeep in the water, told the inquest he had been out for a drive around Buncrana Town with his wife Kay in their Toyota Corolla auto. "I was exhausted and lay on the slipway", he added.

Mr Crawford said he could hear children crying.

Mr Crawford hoped Mr Walsh would be able to swim back but it became apparent this would not be possible due to his exhaustion.

The water started to gush into the auto, I still had the boys hand but the vehicle went under the water, nose first.

As he reached the Audi Q7, Mr McGrotty was trying to smash the driver's window with his elbow and shouted, "Save the baby, save my baby".

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

Meanwhile, Davitt Walsh, who swam out and managed to rescue a baby from the auto before it was fully submerged has said that he nearly git another child out of the vehicle.

Mr Walsh, who won a medal for his bravery, said: "I had to let go because I was struggling as hard as I could to avoid getting sucked into the water".

Mr Crawford said the lower 10 feet of the slipway was covered in green algae which was "slippy as ice".

"The father passed the baby out the window, he sat on the ledge with his hands on the roof - I had to reach up to get the baby".

He said Walsh said to him that he tried to get another boy out but that his leg had got caught.

At that stage water which had been seeping in turned into a surge.

Mr Walsh said Mr McGrotty managed to scramble onto the ledge of the driver's side window before water started to rush in.

At this point, he could not make out anybody else other than the driver in the vehicle.

Garda Sergeant Mark Traynor gave those present today a sense of the sadness, carnage and devastation which met members of the emergency services when they arrived at the scene of Buncrana Pier that evening.

Walsh managed to swim back to the pier - a 25 metre distance - with the baby held in the air and he collapsed on the thick algae on the pier.

Mr Crawford said that local people would know not to go down onto the slipway but a stranger would not.

It was not until her flight landed in Belfast that she heard what had happened.

He added that the RNLI responded within a similar time as its members were returning from an exercise.

She clarified, when asked by the Coroner, Dr. Denis McCauley, that the current legal alcohol limit was 50 mlg. per decimetre, this limit having been reduced from 80 mlg/d back in 2011.

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