Subscriber OnlyTransport

Cycling deaths on the roads: ‘I was searching for her and then I found her in the ditch’

After another woman was killed on her bike this week in a crash with a truck driver, the partner of champion cyclist Gabriele Glodenyte recounts the aftermath of her death in a crash

The summer had just burst into life on the day Gabriele Glodenyte didn’t come home. Seán Landers says he was going to spend the rest of his life with “Gabby”. But that’s gone now.

Two champion cyclists with UCD Cycling Club, they were out for a bike ride together on Saturday, May 27th. Landers stopped for a moment on the roadside and Gabby – “only me and her mother called her Gabriele” – waited for him just ahead.

As she waited, an oncoming driver crashed his car and fatally injured Gabriele. She was 24 years old, academically gifted, a natural athlete and much loved. Landers (25) says an ongoing Garda inquiry will establish precisely why the crash happened. But he wants people to understand the aftermath.

“I came across the scene, I didn’t see it happen. As I was getting there, the driver was getting out of his car,” he says, adding what he saw that lunchtime on the road at Grallagh, Garristown, Co Meath, will never leave him. “I saw her bike and it was really messed up, it was broken in a lot of places. But she was nowhere to be seen near the bike.


“There was a period of time when I was calling her name, searching for her, but she was nowhere to be seen. And then I saw her socks, upside down in the ditch. But I just didn’t think it was going to be fatal. I thought okay, she might be unconscious here. So I just jumped into the ditch to hold her hand and tell her everything was going to be okay, that we’d get help, to reassure her, ‘I’m with you’.

There have been 165 fatalities so far this year, already 10 more than in all of last year

“But once I picked her hand up I could feel there was no life there. She had serious injuries... I kind of knew she was gone. But I started doing CPR on her. I didn’t know what to do, I just didn’t want to do nothing. And the ambulance people were on the phone and they were telling me to keep going. But when they arrived, they just basically took one look at her and... I don’t think they even put a hand on her. They just said to me ‘Look, that’s it, unfortunately.’”

He says while his heart is broken, Gabriele’s mother, Edita, has lost her only daughter and all her potential. Those talents were something Landers could see when he and Gabriele first started their relationship while students in Gormanston College, a Franciscan school in Co Meath.

“Gabriele came from Lithuania and went into fifth class [in national school] without a word of English,” Landers says. “But only a few years later she got an A in English in the Junior Cert, beating all of us and it was our first language.”

Gabriele scored six As in the Leaving Certificate and secured a scholarship to Trinity. She graduated with first class honours in Management Science and Information Systems Studies before pursuing a career as a partner business manager in Microsoft. Last year she won the Cycling Ireland National Road Series overall – the premier competition for elite road racing cyclists. Landers – himself a track cycling national champion – says Gabriele was “a natural” on the bike.

Landers agrees to speak to The Irish Times because he says he wants people to understand the devastating impact of every road crash. This week, deaths on the Republic’s roads continued to climb, including a cyclist on an e-bike – Josilaine ‘Josie’ Ribeiro (36), from Brazil, dying in a crash with a truck driver in Dolphin’s Barn, Dublin 8. She worked as a carer and was cycling to visit a patient. There have been 165 fatalities so far this year, already 10 more than in all of last year. Road deaths are now on course this year to be the highest since 2010.

The latest trends represent a slippage on the progress the Republic made for two decades. Road deaths were permanently above 400 from the mid-1980s to 2021, at which point they began dropping, eventually to below 200 annually.

Worryingly, however, enforcement appears to have regressed. Last month The Irish Times revealed roadside alcohol breath testing by gardaí had declined by more than half since 2019. The number of fixed charge notices for key offences – such as using a mobile while driving and speeding – are also down this year. The number of gardaí assigned to roads policing is 659 nationally – down from 692 at the end of last year and at the lowest since 2017.

So what’s going wrong? Why are road deaths increasing again after all the progress over the past two decades?

“Some mid managers in the Garda have no interest in roads policing, it’s a culture,” says one experienced Garda member who has spent a large portion of his career in roads policing. He says some senior Garda officers believe roads policing is “damaging to the [Garda’s] relationship with the local community”. This is based on a logic that sanctioning people for so-called minor road traffic offences would alienate the public.

The same source says some senior gardaí see roads policing as a “dumping ground” for gardaí they believe are underperforming. Furthermore, when policing is under pressure as in recent years, as total Garda numbers decline, the response is to divert Garda personnel away from roads policing and into other duties.

Garda Headquarters says that as recruitment to the force increases, more resources will be available for road traffic policing. It says risk-taking increased during the pandemic because some drivers felt unimpeded on deserted roads.

Phil Skelton is a well-known cycling safety campaigner who was instrumental in persuading the government to create a new criminal offence of “dangerously overtaking a cyclist” four years ago. He believes the enforcement climate on the roads has become more lax, giving rise to the increase in fatalities.

The person you were going to spend the rest of your life with, gone in a heartbeat. No goodbyes

—  Seán Landers

“I see it every day on the bike; the amount of people distracted driving, usually with their nose stuck in the phone. Behaviours have gotten very bad and that’s going unchecked,” he says. When he lived in Australia for a decade he was breath tested six times while driving. Now back in Ireland 30 years, he has been breath tested once.

Skelton also says a healthy fear was instilled in drivers when drink-driving laws were introduced. That was reinforced by the creation of the penalty points system and the incremental addition of new offences over a period of years. But he suspects the impact of those changes has now worn off and he wonders why so few new measures have been introduced.

He says UK-style online portals – where dashcam footage of offending on the road can be lodged with the police – would be an idea worth rolling out. He says it might bring about another transformative change in driver behaviour.

Chairwoman of the Road Safety Authority (RSA), Liz O’Donnell, says average speed cameras – already reducing speeding in Dublin’s Port Tunnel and on the M7 in Co Tipperary – should be rolled out at multiple locations.

While the RSA and other stakeholders, including the Garda, have a “vision zero” campaign – to eradicate road traffic deaths by 2050 – the Government must accept significant funding is required. Minister for Justice Helen McEntee needs to ensure the installation of “20 average speed cameras around the country”, O’Donnell says. Ireland is an “outlier” in its failure to date to exploit technology to enhance road safety. O’Donnell points out more GoSafe mobile speed camera vans would be on the roads at present but for budgetary restraints.

“Enforcement is something we did better before than we are doing now,” she says. “More people are killed on the roads than by organised crime. But I’m not despairing because Irish people can get this back on track, we’ve done it before.”

Landers finds it hard to share that optimism, saying even before Gabriele was killed he found the roads were “like a war zone”. He describes the past 5½ months as “incredibly difficult”.

“I think that if I came across a random person in the ditch that day, I’d be messed up from that. And in the same way, if Gabriele died in her sleep, I’d also be messed up. When you combine the two of them together... there are strange things going on in your head. The person you were going to spend the rest of your life with, gone in a heartbeat. No goodbyes.”