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Dublin: 11 °C Wednesday 23 October, 2019
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Student (19) died in 'freak accident' after 'domino effect' on stairwell

The pathologist told the Limerick inquest that due to Sophie Coll’s “very severe” injuries, nothing could have been done to save her.

A file photo of Dublin Coroner's Court.
A file photo of Dublin Coroner's Court.
Image: Leah Farrell

A YOUNG GALWAY woman died in a “freak” fall from a stairs while attending a house party two years ago, her inquest heard.

Sophie Coll, 19, from Barna, a second-year student attending at University of Limerick, was ascending the stairwell with three friends when one of them slipped, resulting in the group falling backwards like “dominos”.

Sophie was the only one who was injured, and suffered a fatal skull fracture when her head hit impacted on a tiled floor, Limerick Coroner’s Court heard.

The accident occurred at a house at Stanford Close, located near the University of Limerick on 25 September 2017.

Sophie and her friends, Zoe Patterson and Keely McGrath, had earlier attended a birthday party in another house.

Patterson and McGrath, who attended the inquest with Sophie’s father Rory Coll, stated in their depositions they had consumed a few cans of beer on the night but they were not inebriated.

Sophie had also consumed some beer and had also possibly consumed some vodka on the night, it was heard.

At the house party the three girls met another friend Darragh Hannify, a fellow business student from Clarenbridge, Co Galway.

The inquest heard Hannify was leading the four friends up the stairs when he suddenly lost his footing and fell backwards.

Hannify, who was not present at the inquest, told Gardaí he consumed “about two cans” and some vodka on the night.

“I was halfway up the stairs, I grabbed the bannister, I bumped into it. I kind of slipped back, I know I bumped into someone, I think it was Zoe,” he stated in his deposition.

When I looked back, Sophie was on the ground at the bottom of the stairs.

Hannify said a crowd then gathered around Sophie and that someone called for an ambulance.

Zoe Patterson, from Glanmire, Co Cork, told gardaí that Hannify “appeared to lose his balance” before stumbling on the stairs.

She said they all fell back “like dominos” but that she managed to stabilise herself by grabbing hold of the bannister.

“In a split second Sophie flew past me backwards before hitting tiles on the hallway floor,” she stated in her deposition.

Keely McGrath, from Glenbrook, Lyne, Aherlow, Co Tipperary, stated that Hannify “kind of wobbled back and pushed back on us like dominos” as the group went upstairs.

“I heard a smack on the ground and I knew Sophie had fallen… When Darragh stumbled it was completely accidental,” she added.

An ambulance, which was dispatched from Nenagh, Co Tipperary, reached the house within forty minutes after receiving the emergency call.

Pathologist Dr Gabor Laskai said in his opinion, that due to Sophie’s “very severe” injuries, nothing could have been done to save her.

Advanced paramedic Dan New, stated in his deposition that he and a colleague spent 20 minutes administering emergency first aid to Sophie after they arrived at the house.

A neck collar was also applied and her body was supported in a “vacuum mattress”.

He stated that Sophie was “completely unresponsive” when she was transferred by ambulance to University Hospital Limerick, where she was pronounced dead the following evening.

Sophie’s parents had been traveling in France at the time of their daughter’s fatal fall.

Her injuries were “not compatible with life” despite further attempts by doctors to resuscitate her and her family agreed to donate her organs to help give life to others, it was heard.

A post-mortem found that Sophie had suffered “extensive brain damage”.

Limerick Coroner, Dr John McNamara described the evidence as “extremely harrowing”.

It is clear alcohol wasn’t a factor. It was early in the evening and (Sophie’s) friends said very little alcohol had been consumed. It sounds like a freak accident as four young people were climbing a stairs.

Dr McNamara said the four friends had fallen into one another like a “domino effect”.

“It’s very tragic. Sophie was a young lady with her whole life ahead of her,” he added.

Returning a verdict of accidental death, due to a severe skull fracture, he expressed his sympathies to Sophie’s loved ones and friends.

Rory Coll thanked paramedics, hospital staff and the Gardaí.

Speaking afterwards Mr Coll said his family had organised Sophie’s Ball, a fundraising ball set up in memory of Sophie, with proceeds going to the Anam Cara, a support group for parents following bereavement; the Organ Donor Garden, Salthill; and Coláiste Iognaid (The Jes), Sea Road, Galway, where his Sophie had attended.

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David Raleigh

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