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Pathologist says driver of jeep in Buncrana pier tragedy was over drink-driving limit

Five members of the same family perished in the tragedy including Sean McGrotty, his sons Mark, 11, and eight-year-old Evan, his mother-in-law Ruth Daniels and her teenage daughter Jodie-Lee Tracey.

PastedImage-58927 From top left: Evan McGrotty with his father Sean, Jodie Lee-Daniels, Mark McGrotty and Ruth Daniels Source: Facebook

THE DRIVER OF a car that slipped off Buncrana pier in which five people drowned was more than three times over the drink-driving limit.

The evidence was given at today’s inquest into the deaths of five people on 20 March 2016.

Five members of the same family perished in the tragedy including Sean McGrotty, his sons Mark, 11, and eight-year-old Evan, his mother-in-law Ruth Daniels and her teenage daughter Jodie-Lee Tracey.

The coroner’s court, held at the Lake of Shadows Hotel, heard evidence from consultant pathologist Dr Katrina Dillon.

Dr Dillon said that she examined the body of the late Sean McGrotty at Letterkenny University Hospital.

After various medical examinations which found lacerations as well as cuts, Dr Dillon said that death was due to drowning.

However, Dr Dillon said that an examination of the body found that there was a level of intoxication in his body.

She said samples taken from the body were sent to the State Laboratory.

The returned reading showed the driver of the Audi Q7 jeep had a blood alcohol level of 159 millilitres. Dr Dillon said the drink-driving level in this case was 50 milligrammes of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood.

On cross-examination, Dr Dillon said she couldn’t say what level of impairment such a reading would have as it depended on each individual’s capacity.

“I can’t say what level of impairment there was,” she said.


Earlier, the coroner heard from the woman who lost her mother, partner, sister and two little boys in the drowning tragedy.

Louise James told how she knew something was wrong the moment she got a phone call on the night of the tragedy.

She said she last saw the five members of her family on Friday 18 March last year.

PastedImage-33184 The Daniels and McGrotty family Source: Garda Press Office

Her partner Sean McGrotty and boys had left her off to a friend’s house at 4pm as she was travelling to Liverpool to attend a hen party.

She revealed that just minutes before the tragedy, at 6.55pm, she had spoken by phone with her sister Jodi Lee and boys who were playing in a playpark on the shorefront in Buncrana.

A short time later while at the airport on her journey home, she received a phone call at 7.25pm from her brother Joshua.

“I got feeling something wasn’t right,” she said.

He told her there had been an incident in Buncrana and that a car had gone into the water but he thought it contained two men.

James said she had tried to contact both her partner and her sister but could not reach them.

She took her plane to Belfast and when she arrived she was contacted by family members by phone.

She was informed that her partner Sean, sons, sister and mother had drowned but that baby Rioghnach-Ann had been saved.

She travelled to her home in Derry and then travelled on to Letterkenny University Hospital to see her surviving child and to identify the rest of her family.


The man who saved Rioghnach-Ann’s life told the inquest how he tried desperately to save the life of another child.

Heroic Davitt Walsh selflessly stripped down to his underwear and swam out to the family after the jeep had slipped into the water off the pier.

Walsh told how he desperately tried to save the life of another young boy but his foot got caught in the car just seconds before it went under the water.

He recalled that he was enjoying a day out with girlfriend Stephanie Knox having played for his football team Fanad United earlier that afternoon. When they arrived in the area,  they initially parked up at the end of the pier but when driving away, Knox noticed a car had slipped.

90412937_90412937 Source: Eamonn Farrell/RollingNews.ie

Walsh told more than 100 people at the inquest in the seaside town how he desperately tried to help. He said he swam out to jeep and heard children screaming inside the car.

As he reached the Audi Q7 jeep, the driver was trying to smash the window with his elbow.

When he did this, Walsh told how Sean McGrotty handed out a small child and said “Save the baby, save my baby.”

Walsh took the baby and then Mr McGrotty sat up onto the ledge of the driver’s window.

As he did so, another small child in the jeep tried to get out and Walsh managed to take his hand.

However, as he did so, the child’s leg got stuck and water rushed into the jeep.

I reached in and grabbed a wee boy but he seemed to get stuck. The father was saying something but I can’t remember. When the driver sat on window ledge, the water just started to gush into the car. I remember the baby was crying.

Walsh managed to swim back to the pier – a 25 metre distance – with the baby held in the air and he collapsed on the thick algae on the pier.

The baby was handed to another woman on the pier and she was taken to Walsh’s car to be heated up.

I collapsed on the algae. I could hardly breathe I was so tired. A man came and pulled me off the algae. I was freezing and knew I had to get warm.

First on scene

Francis Crawford, the first person to the scene to see the family’s jeep in the water, told the inquest he had been out for a drive around Buncrana Town with his wife Kay in their Toyota Corolla car.

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The couple travelled down to the pier and parked on the slipway at 7.08pm and he said he immediately saw what he thought was a black people carrier in the water at the bottom of the slipway.

He remarked to his wife that “there was something badly wrong” and he shouted at the person in the car who was about 3 to 4 yards off the slipway in the water.

The man in the car shouted to call the coastguard and he dialled 999.

He asked for the coastguard service and was immediately put through to the Malin Head Coastguard Station.

He told the coastguard member, Mike Mullin, that a car was in the water off the pier with a family in it and that a tragedy was about to happen.

He added that it was then that he heard the squeals and crying of children inside the car.

Then a man and a woman arrived on the scene. Crawford asked the man, who later turned out to be Davitt Walsh, if he could swim and he replied he could. He pleaded with Walsh to try to swim out to the car.

Crawford said he continued to hear screaming from those inside but he soon saw Walsh coming back to the slipway with a baby in his arms.

He said Walsh said to him that he tried to get another boy out but that his leg had got caught.

He added that he hoped Walsh would be able to return to the water but that he was simply exhausted. Kay Crawford gave similar evidence to that of her husband.

She added that she noticed there were tyre marks on the slipway but she said she could not say if it was from the same jeep.

90412938_90412938 Flowers and other items left on the pier in the days following the tragedy Source: Eamonn Farrell/RollingNews.ie

Garda Sergeant Mark Traynor gave those present today a sense of the sadness, carnage and devastation which met members of the emergency services when they arrived at the scene of Buncrana Pier that evening.

He also agreed that the algae was thick and very slippy on the pier and that his colleagues were also very aware of this.

Solicitor for Donegal County Council, Michael Staines, said that almost every pier had algae on it.

“The algae was very evident,” added Garda Traynor.

During cross-examination, Sergeant Traynor told the inquest that a file had been prepared on the incident and sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions.

He said the recommendation from the DPP was that nobody was to be prosecuted as a result of the tragedy.

The inquest was told that the gate leading down to the slipway was open at the time and cars were freely allowed to enter onto it.

The only signage on the day was warnings not to swim within 15 metres of the pier.

The inquest is expected to last two days and will hear from a total of 12 witnesses.

“Rioghnach-Ann is a beautiful baby” – Buncrana hero shares emotional post

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Stephen Maguire

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