Court hears car 'shot across the road' into wrong lane before fatal crash that killed four

Dayna Kearney (22) of Crossneen, Carlow has pleaded not guilty to dangerous driving causing death.

LAST UPDATE | Jul 10th 2018, 7:55 PM

Clockwise from top left: Niamh Doyle, Gemma Nolan, Aisling Middleton and Chermaine Carroll. Clockwise from top left: Niamh Doyle, Gemma Nolan, Aisling Middleton and Chermaine Carroll.

THE TRIAL OF a young woman charged with dangerous driving causing the death of four friends has heard how her car “shot across the road” into the wrong lane before colliding with a van.

Dayna Kearney (23) of Crossneen, Carlow has pleaded not guilty to the charge of causing death by dangerous driving and knowingly driving a defective vehicle at Burtown, Kildare on 6 January 2015.

Ms Kearney was the driver of a Volkswagen Polo that collided with a transporter van on the N78.

Passengers Gemma Nolan (19), Charmaine Carroll (20), and Niamh Doyle (19), all from Carlow, and Aisling Middleton (19) from Athy, died almost instantly in the collision.

On the opening day of Kearney’s trial in Naas Circuit Court, prosecuting counsel Dan Boland said it was the state’s case that two tyres on the Polo were not inflated to the correct level and a heavy load in the car had led to it veering into the wrong lane.

The court was told Kearney had little recollection of the collision and the Polo’s NCT had expired at the time of the accident.

Witness Tracy Norton gave evidence of travelling behind the transporter van prior to the collision at around 9.45pm.

Norton noted the van slowed and had begun pulling into the hard shoulder. She believed the van was leaving her pass but then noticed the oncoming Polo.

“I saw the car swerving on the road. The car then straightened up,” she said.

When the van pulled back out onto the road, Norton said, the Polo “shot across the road”.

The passenger side of the car collided with the front of the van, the court was told. It collision caused ‘Yaw’ movement (a movement that changes where an object is pointing) and saw the car turn completely around.

‘She kept screaming’

Norton immediately contacted the emergency services and ran to the car.

“(Kearney) was screaming,” she said. “I tried to talk to her but she kept screaming.”

Norton recounted checking the pulse of the passenger but could not find one.

Bus Eireann driver Mark Fitzgerald gave evidence of arriving at the scene shortly after the collision.

“It was immediate to me that it was a major accident. I am aware families are here and I do not want to distress them,” he said. “She was the only girl in the car that I believed was still alive.”

Fitzgerald offered the families his sympathies from the witness box.

Garda Deirdre Collins of Athy Garda Station gave evidence of attending the scene at around 10pm.

The transporter van had caught fire in the middle of the road and efforts had been made it to move it away from the car which was on a grass verge.

Collins said she was approached by Athy Fire Station Officer Ben Woodhouse, who believed that only one person in the Polo was showing signs of life.

She said Kearney was in great pain at the scene and could not talk to her.

Collins said she identified Kearney from her driver’s license in her bag.

‘Came as a shock’

Sergeant Donal O’Sullivan from Athy Garda Station said he interviewed Kearney around four months after the incident.

“She was not available for interview beforehand because her injuries were so severe,” he said.

In her statement to gardaí, she recalled travelling to Kilkenny to go ice-skating with her friends on the day of the incident.

Afterwards, the group had gone to McDonalds before heading to Athy. Kearney said she could recall leaving McDonalds but had no recollection of what occurred afterwards.

Kearney told gardaí she had purchased her ‘01 Volkswagen Polo in May or June 2014 from Done Deal.

The ad said it had an NCT until April 2015. The defendant said when she inspected the car at a petrol station in Allenwood, Co Kildare prior to buying it she saw an NCT disc with the same details.

In March 2015, after the accident, the defendant’s mother sought a replacement NCT as the original could not be found.

She rang the NCT office to be told the NCT had expired in May 2014.

“This information came as a shock and was devastating to me and my family,” she told gardaí.

Kearney said she was a provisional learner driver and was not displaying L Plates at the time of the incident.

Forensic collision investigator at Newbridge Garda Station Garda Rachel Murdiff said she was satisfied on the basis of her investigation and witness statements that the passenger side of the Polo had struck the front of the van when it had veered across the road.

Murdiff noted scuff marks on the road which continued for 46 metres before the scene of the accident but did not observe any brake marks.

Murdiff said the car had “slid” across the road surface as the wheels were moving.

Road and driving conditions were described as good and the accident had occurred on a relatively straight stretch of road.

Speed not a factor

The court was told the stretch of road had a 100kph limit and speed was not a factor in the collision.

In cross examination, defence barrister Roderick O’Hanlon SC raised an engineer’s report that the defence had commissioned.

An engineer had found that the cat’s eyes on the road appeared to be above the recommended level of the road surface.

O’Hanlon suggested the impact of the cat’s eye on the tyre would have had an exaggerated effect on steering.

Murdiff did not dispute the report but said she would expect to see marks on the road if the tyre had hit a cat’s eye.

She had inspected the road and noticed no loose or jagged cat’s eyes.

Murdiff agreed with a suggestion by the defence barrister that the collision would have occurred almost instantaneously after the car lost control.

Van passenger Mariusz Wawrzos also gave evidence that he saw the Polo swerving left and right and told the van driver to go slower.

“I told him to press the brakes,” said the Polish native.

He said the Polo swerved back and forth two or three times before the collision.

Wawrzos described the driving of the Polo as “very bad” and said the collision had occurred “very fast”.

The final witness of the day was tyre fitter Andrew McAuley who worked with Fast Lane Tyre Centre on the Pollerton Road, Carlow.

He recalled changing a damaged tyre on Kearney’s Polo on a date before the accident. McAuley said he had been asked to put a ‘new’ second-hand tyre on the car.

He told the court he did not check any of the other tyres. The court was told the witness knew the defendant’s family and had given the best quality tyre on the day.

The case continues in front of a jury of seven women and five men with presiding judge Eoin Garavan. It is expected to last a week.

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