Car veered in 'torrential rain' in crash that killed three students
A horrific car crash “robbed society of three fine young men”, an inquest into their deaths has heard.
The families of Conall Havern, Gavin Sloan and Peter Hughes listened intently in Newry Courthouse as details of their final moments were recounted.
The three friends had been returning from a trip to Belfast to sort out university accommodation on August 23 2015 when their car struck standing water on the A1 dual carriageway between Banbridge and Dromore in Co Down.
Witnesses spoke of torrential rain causing extreme driving difficulties and poor visibility when the collision happened shortly after 5.30pm.
Peter Hughes (19), a keen Gaelic footballer from Dromintee, Co Armagh, was behind the wheel of his father’s Vauxhall Corsa when it hit a patch of water in the outside lane which according to one witness was up to three inches deep.
Conall and Gavin, both aged 20 and from Newry and Kilkeel respectively, were passengers in the car.
A driver who saw the Corsa lose control estimated it was travelling at around 60 miles per hour, although another told the hearing she believed it was not much faster than 45mph.
The car swerved “like a pinball in a pinball machine”, motorist Nicola Wilson said, as Peter attempted to regain control, with the three men visibly “panicking” inside.
It struck a kerb and spun across the central reservation and into the path of oncoming traffic, causing at least one vehicle to take evasive action.
However, Jayne Donaghy, who was travelling towards Lisburn in a Volkswagen Tiguan, was unable to avoid the car.
“I braked and tried to steer away but couldn’t avoid it. It all happened very quickly,” she said.
Ms Donaghy described an impact and then feeling “severe pain” on her right side when her car came to a standstill.
Other motorists who saw the crash stopped and ran to help, including two off-duty police officers and a nurse.
However, the three young men all died at the scene.
Describing the driving conditions, PSNI Constable Sarah McDonnell said: “The weather was horrific. My daughter had initially been driving my car and we had stopped so I could take over, as I didn’t want her driving in that rain.”
Making the short run from where she pulled over on the hard shoulder to the Corsa left her “soaked through”, she added.
Detective Constable Sarah Lewis, who also came upon the scene, said. “Driving conditions were extremely poor, and the water wasn’t draining off the road fast enough.
“It was difficult for my wipers to clear the water off my windscreen in time.”
She also spoke of dealing with numerous road accidents on that stretch of the A1, where traffic slows to pull onto junctions.
Evidence from a member of the PSNI’s road policing unit said gullies allowing water drainage close to the scene had been cleared five months previously.
A pathologist’s report described how the students died rapidly from “multiple injuries” resulting from the crash.
Concluding the inquest, Coroner Suzanne Anderson said Peter lost control of the car due to standing water resulting from heavy rain.
“This devastating accident has robbed three families of three much-loved sons and has robbed society of three fine young men who had very promising futures ahead of them,” she said.