Verdicts of accidental death for Mayo men drowned on Christmas day

Two friends died when they tried to drive through a swollen river last Christmas

Declan Davitt (26) and Martin Needham (27) drowned after the Ford Ranger Mr Davitt was driving was swept away after they attempted to cross the Carrowniskey river

Declan Davitt (26) and Martin Needham (27) drowned after the Ford Ranger Mr Davitt was driving was swept away after they attempted to cross the Carrowniskey river

 

A jury at inquests into the deaths of two friends who died when they tried to drive through a swollen river last Christmas has returned verdicts of accidental death.

Declan Davitt (26) and Martin Needham (27) drowned after the Ford Ranger Mr Davitt was driving was swept away after they attempted to cross the Carrowniskey river, near Louisburgh, Co Mayo, in the early hours of December 25th, 2017.

It emerged at the inquest in Castlebar, presided over by the coroner for Mayo, Patrick O’Connor, that the river is regularly crossed by large, SUV-type vehicles. However, last Christmas the waterway was a raging torrent following weeks of incessant rain.

It also heard the front passenger window was not functional because the teeth on the regulator that operates it was worn.

In a lengthy deposition, the victims’ friend Tom McGreal described how he managed to escape from the submerged vehicle through a window after it sank in the river.

“The jeep was starting to fill with water inside. I knew I had to get out. I got out a window. I don’t know was it down or did I break it.

“I remember the lads were laughing and thinking it was a great laugh.

“The lads were starting to panic when more water began to fill the jeep. I thought I had to get out of the jeep now.

“I had to pull myself out of the jeep to get out of it. I got out of the jeep and swam over to the bank.

“I could hear screaming coming from the jeep which lasted only a few seconds. Then there was complete silence.

“I then went to try and get back into the water but it was too strong.”

Too much drink

Mr McGreal (20) explained he crossed fields to the main road before getting to the Gibbons home at Roonith, where family members raised the alarm by ringing 999 at about 2.25am.

The jury also heard the three men had called to the Gibbons family home earlier and were advised not to drive as they had had too much to drink.

Mary Gibbons said in a statement the three men had vodka with them and were drunk when they arrived at her house. “I told the lads they were more than welcome to call to the house any time but not in the state they were in, as they had started to get messy.”

The three had met for Christmas drinks in Louisburgh earlier.

After leaving the Gibbonses’ house, the car went down the road towards Carrowniskey river, picking up speed before it reached the water.

In his statement to gardaí, Mr McGreal explained: “Declan then went to drive into the river, which was high and in full flow.

“When he went into the river he tried to reverse and the vehicle began to skid. He then got the jeep out of the water and went for it again. The front part of the jeep went face down.”

Asphyxia

After the alarm had been raised, an emergency operation involving gardaí, members of the local community, Westport Coastguard, the Order of Malta and Rescue 118 helicopter from Sligo got under way.

The men’s bodies were found by search teams more than 12 hours later.

Dr Fadel Bennani, consultant pathologist at Mayo University Hospital, said the cause of death in both cases was asphyxia due to drowning.

Blood alcohol level recorded in both men was high, the coroner noted.

After the jury had returned verdicts of accidental deaths, the coroner said sudden death at any time was trying and emotional but at Christmas, a time of celebration, it was heartbreaking.