Boy (6) tried to save friend who fell into river

Coroner to ask owners to fix gap in fence after boys gained access to riverbank

A six-year-old boy bravely tried to save his friend when he fell into a fast flowing river, an inquest heard.

James Casey-Butler (6) tragically died having suffered prolonged oxygen deprivation despite the desperate attempts of bystanders to rescue him after he fell into the Owenacurra River near his home at Tir Cluain, Midleton, Co Cork on March 23, last year. He died the following day having been airlifted to Our Lady's Hospital in Crumlin.

James was playing with his friends Leon Murray and Christopher Doyle when the incident happened. Dublin Coroner’s Court heard that the boys gained access to the riverbank through a gap in a fence made by people wanting to fish.

In her deposition read into the record, his mother Edel Casey said she had been watching the boys from the Murray house nearby but when she went outside to call them in, she could not find them. She immediately started searching for them and two boys told her that they were down by the river. As she approached the gap in the fence Leon and Christopher where coming towards her.


“Leon told me James fell into the river. I was screaming,” she said.

Ms Casey began frantically running along the riverbank searching for her son. Neighbour Damien Garde spotted James tangled in the branches of a tree 4-500 metres from where he fell in. He jumped into the river and brought him over to the riverbank, starting CPR immediately.

Paramedics were unable to revive James at the scene. He was transferred to Cork University Hospital where staff continued to work on him until spontaneous circulation returned 45 minutes after arrival. He was transferred by helicopter to Our Lady’s Hospital, Crumlin, but died the following day. Pathologist Dr Michael McDermott said that James died from the effect of hypoxia – oxygen deprivation – on multiple organs and that this likely occurred when he was in the water.

Investigating garda Sergeant Anna Lane said she spoke with the two boys following James's death. Christopher told her that James and Leon had been standing on a tree branch over the water playing a game where they were throwing stones in to see who could make the biggest splash when James slipped and fell into the river.

“Leon said that he had tried to grab onto James’s arm when he fell into the water but the branch that James had been holding onto broke and James was swept down the river,” she said.

The family told the coroner that people on the estate had repeatedly complained to the local authority about the gap in the fence which was being cut open by people going fishing. The gap is still there, they said. Sgt Lane said that gardai­ had difficulty establishing whether the estate is in the control of NAMA or the local authority.

Coroner Dr Brian Farrell said that while this was an accident, the fact that the boys were able to access the riverbank through the gap was a "very serious" risk factor. He returned a verdict of death by misadventure. He told the family that he would establish who had responsibility for maintaining the fence and write to them to recommend that the gap be blocked off in the interest of public safety.