Father of cyclist killed by drink-driver questions lack of alcohol evidence at inquest

Driver later convicted of careless driving causing death didn’t know he had hit Stefan Cooper (18)

 

The father of a teenage cyclist who was killed when struck by a drink-driver has questioned why no evidence was heard at the inquest about the motorist’s alcohol intake.

Stefan Cooper (18), from Skibbereen, Co Cork, was fatally injured when he was struck by a Toyota Landcruiser driven by Sean Collins at Barleyhill near Rosscarbery on the N71 at around 7.05pm on March 8th, 2016, as he made his way home after a marathon cycle.

The jury at his inquest returned a verdict of accidental death due to a road traffic collision.

However, Mr Cooper’s father Christy said it was strange that the inquest heard no evidence that Mr Collins was almost three times over the drink-driving limit at the time as it did not give a full picture of the circumstances of his son’s death.

Earlier this year, Mr Collins pleaded guilty at Cork Circuit Criminal Court to careless driving causing Mr Cooper’s death and driving with excess alcohol of 140mgs per 100mls of blood, when the legal limit was 50mgs, and was given a one-year suspended sentence, fined €500 and banned from driving for five years.

The inquest heard Stefan Cooper was killed moments before a Good Samaritan, fearing the teenager would be killed because he was cycling without any light or hi-visibility clothing, reached him to offer a lift home.

Witness Tom Aherne told how he almost hit Mr Cooper as he was driving down the road at Barleyhill. He said the young cyclist was about a metre out from the hard shoulder but it was a particularly dark night and he only spotted him and swerved to avoid him at the last minute.

“As I drove past him, I made up my mind to turn around and go back and offer him a lift because I thought he was going to be killed - the night was pitch dark and he had no lights or hi-visibility clothing,” said Mr Ahern, who drove for a few hundred metres before he found somewhere to turn.

He drove back up the road only to discover Mr Cooper had been hit by a vehicle and was lying half way across the yellow line marking the hard shoulder while his badly damaged bicycle was in the ditch. He immediately rang the emergency services.

Other motorists stopped, including an off-duty doctor, Mairead Wilson, who pronounced Mr Cooper dead at the scene. A postmortem by assistant State Pathologist Dr Margaret Bolster found he died from upper cervical spinal cord injury and traumatic brain injury.

Mr Collins (70), from Leap, Co Cork, told the inquest he never saw Mr Cooper on his bike. “I was just driving along - it was raining and dark - I knew nothing until the windscreen shattered... I didn’t really know what I hit,” he told the inquest.

Garda Mark Curtis, who investigated the fatal incident, told the inquest he had spoken to a number of motorists who had passed Mr Cooper and they all reported they found it hard to see him because it was dark and he was wearing dark clothing and had no lights on his bike.

Garda PSV Inspector, Garda Thomas Brosnan, examined both Mr Collins’s Toyota Landcruiser and Mr Cooper’s 27-gear Trek bike after the accident and concluded both were roadworthy prior to the collision, even though he found no lights on the bike save for a red rear reflector on the carrier.

Mr Cooper’s father Christy told the inquest that his son was very safety-conscious and there was at least one if not two red reflectors as well as a rear light and a front light on the bike just two days earlier when he saw his son heading off for a cycle.

Forensic crash investigator, Garda Ray Sweeney, said it was impossible to say whether Mr Cooper was cycling in the carriageway or the hard shoulder when he was hit, but his body was found 39 metres from the point of impact, while the Landcruiser stopped 146 metres from the point of impact.

He estimated the Landcruiser was doing between 69kph and 82kph when it hit Mr Cooper, and it took Mr Collins between 4.87 and 6.37 seconds to brake after impact. He said 85 per cent of drivers would be expected to brake within 1.5 seconds of impact, so he was slow to brake.

The jury returned a verdict of accidental death due to a road traffic collision. The coroner extended his sympathies to Mr Cooper on the loss of his son, whom the inquest heard would have died almost instantly in the collision.