The parents of a boy killed in a mountain biking crash in the Dublin Mountains have called for change in Garda policy to allow parents of children killed in sudden, unfortunate circumstances to be afforded the chance to see the body at the scene.
Naoise O’Sullivan (13) of Beech Court, Killiney, Co Dublin, died from a traumatic spinal injury suffered in a crash on a trail at Ticknock Forest in Dublin on August 11th, 2020, while mountain biking with two friends.
His parents, Mark and Sabrina O’Sullivan, expressed frustration that they were not allowed access by gardaí to the location of the incident to see their son’s body before it was removed by ambulance. They also criticised their experience at Our Lady’s Hospital in Crumlin where Naoise’s body was brought after the incident.
Ms O’Sullivan told a sitting of Dublin District Coroner’s Court that she and her husband were not allowed to go past a Garda barrier to see where Naoise had died.
The inquest heard that they only got to see their son’s body for the first time as it was being stretchered into a waiting ambulance.
Ms O’Sullivan said she had remained “as calm as a breeze” despite having to wait a long time behind the barrier before being allowed to see her son. Her husband said they understood the need for gardaí to preserve the scene of a crime or collision but believed greater flexibility could be shown to parents of children who died in such circumstances in the future.
“It would have been very helpful in our grieving process if we could have seen Naoise where he lay,” said Mr O’Sullivan. “It’s made it more difficult to understand how the accident happened.”
Garda Gráinne Harrahill of Dundrum Garda station explained that gardaí had to follow certain procedures in such cases to preserve the scene of a crime or accident.
She said family members were not allowed near the scene and it was considered more appropriate by gardaí on the day that they should see Naoise in the ambulance.
Garda Harrahill said she only realised later the upset it had caused the family.
Ms O’Sullivan said she hoped it would be the norm that parents could attend the scene in future. Her husband said they had also not been given the normal treatment by staff at Our Lady’s Hospital in Crumlin when Naoise’s body was brought to the mortuary by a back entrance.
Mr O’Sullivan said normal procedures for families of dead children had not been followed and they were put under time pressure to get other relatives to see their son before the mortuary was closed.
He said some of Naoise’s clothing, which they would like to have retrieved, was also incinerated.
“It would be nice if that didn’t happen to other people in our situation,” he said.
Mr O’Sullivan said the hospital had apologised subsequently and expressed regret for what happened.
Ms O’Sullivan gave evidence earlier of becoming aware of an incident at Ticknock while waiting near a coffee shop in the car park at Ticknock and seeing an ambulance arrive without realising it was there for her son.
She recalled trying to ring Naoise at 2.45pm but was not concerned that she could not contact him as there was a poor signal.
Ms O’Sullivan said she still did not think there was anything unusual when he had not shown up at 3.10pm. Ten minutes after they were due to meet.
She told the inquest that a passing cyclist told her there had been an accident and when she questioned if it was serious, she was told someone had died and it involved a group of three young boys. Ms O’Sullivan said she realised Naoise was the victim after going up to where a cordon near the scene of the incident was erected and seeing his two friends.
She said her son, the eldest of her four children, had worn a full-face helmet as well as gloves and knee pads.
She recalled they had spoken by phone at 2pm after he had been cycling for two hours and they had agreed he could go on for another hour.
Ms O’Sullivan described Naoise as being “very athletic, who loved the outdoors, swimming and scouting.” He was also “very intelligent, self-assured and mature”, she said.
In a written statement, Naoise’s friend, Leo Boland said everything had been fine while they had been cycling for several hours until one of the final trails of the day.
He said he had fallen behind Naoise going down the trail as he was tired so did not see what happened before he came across his friend lying on the ground on his back groaning.
The inquest heard he knew it was serious when there was subsequently no sign of breathing or noise from his friend.
Naoise was pronounced dead at the scene at 3.20pm after attempts at resuscitation were stopped after he had shown no signs of life.
Leo said the incident had taken place on the Skyline trail which was one of the easiest in Ticknock and they had cycled it together some 50 times before.
Deborah Meehan of Coillte, which oversees the mountain bike trails, said the Skyline trail was considered easy despite having a “red” rating for difficulty. She said the trail had been inspected earlier that day and found to be in good condition.
The inquest heard Naoise’s mountain bike was also found to be in good working order.
The pathologist who carried out a postmortem on Naoise’s body, Anthony Dorman, said he had suffered no acute external injuries.
However, Prof Dorman said the victim had died as a result of being unable to breathe due to suffering a severe spinal cord injury consistent with a fall from a bike.
Prof Dorman said death from such an injury was inevitable and would have been almost instantaneous.
Returning a verdict of accidental death, the coroner, Aisling Gannon, said she would notify An Garda Síochána and Children’s Health Ireland at Crumlin about the issues raised by Naoise’s family.