No decision yet on Athy crash inquest, says Kildare coroner

Garda letter to families had suggested no inquest because trial had heard evidence

Dayna Kearney (22) was acquitted at Naas Circuit Criminal Court of dangerous driving causing death, and of driving a defective vehicle. Photograph:  Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin.

Dayna Kearney (22) was acquitted at Naas Circuit Criminal Court of dangerous driving causing death, and of driving a defective vehicle. Photograph: Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin.

 

The coroner’s office in Kildare has said no decision has yet been taken on whether an inquest is to be held into the deaths of four young women in a road crash.

Niamh Doyle, Gemma Nolan and Ashling Middleton (all aged 19) and Chermaine Carroll (20) died when the VW Polo car driven by their friend, Dayna Kearney, then aged 20, crossed the centre of the road and crashed into an oncoming van on the N78 near Athy on January 6th, 2015.

All five were returning home from ice-skating in Kilkenny at about 10.30pm when the crash happened.

Earlier this month, Ms Kearney was acquitted at Naas Circuit Criminal Court of dangerous driving causing death, and of driving a defective vehicle. The trial heard that neither speed, drugs nor alcohol were factors, but that deflated tyres on the Polo may have contributed to the incident.

The story of the crash, and of Doyle’s sister, Louise, coping with its aftermath was the subject of an article in The Irish Times on July 21st.

Ms Doyle was subsequently interviewed by Miriam O’Callaghan on RTÉ radio, when she said the victims’ families had been told there would not be an inquest.

Ashling Middleton, Chermaine Carroll, Gemma Nolan and Niamh Doyle died after the car in which they were travelling was in collision with a van near Athy, Co Kildare.
Ashling Middleton, Chermaine Carroll, Gemma Nolan and Niamh Doyle died after the car in which they were travelling was in collision with a van near Athy, Co Kildare.

A letter from the Garda to the families, dated July 20th, said: “As the evidence in relation to the fatal collision was heard during the trial, the coroner [Dr Denis Cusack] has indicated that it will not be necessary to hold an inquest”.

No decision has yet been made by the coroner as to whether or not the inquests should be resumed

The letter added that if there was “any special reason why an inquest should be held”, family members could contact the coroner directly.

No decision

However, Dr Cusack’s office has said that no decision as to whether an inquest will be held has yet been taken and the case remained open.

“The coroner’s inquests into the very sad and tragic deaths of Niamh Doyle and three of her friends had stood adjourned before the Coroner’s Court, awaiting the conclusion of criminal proceedings arising from the incident. At the Coroner’s Court on Monday, 16th July 2018, the coroner was told that the criminal proceedings had finished on the previous Thursday, 12th July,” the office said in a statement.

“No decision has yet been made by the coroner as to whether or not the inquests should be resumed and under the applicable law, there is no obligation on the coroner to resume unless there are special reasons for doing so.

“Considerations in that decision include whether the relevant facts have already been heard in the Criminal Court, whether there are issues of public safety still to be addressed, whether the families of the deceased have any special reasons to put before the coroner and any other relevant information.

“The families of the deceased have been invited both directly, and recently through their solicitor, to write to the coroner if they have any such reasons which they wish to be considered or whether they are satisfied that the inquests be closed. Information on any outstanding issue of public safety has been requested from the relevant authority,” the statement said.

The funeral of Niamh Doyle, who passed away on January 6th 2015 following a road collision, took place today at the Holy Family Church, Askea, Carlow. Photograph: Mark Stedman/Photocall Ireland
The funeral of Niamh Doyle, who passed away on January 6th 2015 following a road collision, took place today at the Holy Family Church, Askea, Carlow. Photograph: Mark Stedman/Photocall Ireland

“As the case is still before the coroner, no statement can be made until this further information has been gathered and a decision reached regarding resuming or closing the inquests.”

Louise Doyle welcomed the coroner’s clarification, saying that bereaved families relied heavily on the Garda in circumstances of tragedy and stress.

It is part of the whole closing of that chapter and is just an opportunity to ask questions

“When the information from the gardaí contradicts that of the Coroner’s Court, it removes the trust between the families and members of An Garda Síochána, ” she said.

“I was very disappointed to learn, after the event, that the inquest into my sister’s death was up for mention on July 16th. This resulted in a missed opportunity for our family to attend.

The remains of Gemma Nolan who was killed in a road collision crash with her three friends arrives at the Holy Family Church, Askea, Carlow. Photograph Brenda Fitzsimons/The Irish Times
The remains of Gemma Nolan who was killed in a road collision crash with her three friends arrives at the Holy Family Church, Askea, Carlow. Photograph Brenda Fitzsimons/The Irish Times

“I wish to attend every court relating to my sister’s untimely death. All families should have the opportunity to attend any and all courts where their loved one’s death has been mentioned.”

She would be writing to Dr Cusack, she added.

“I would really like the inquest to happen,” she said. “It is part of the whole closing of that chapter and is just an opportunity to ask questions.”