Five-year-old girl `doing well' after surviving horror crash that killed Paul Donnelly (36) from west Belfast

Paul Donnelly (36) died and the driver of the other car and his five-year-old stepdaughter girl were taken to hospital, following a two-vehicle crash at Magheraknock Road, Ballynahinch. Picture by Cliff Donaldson

A GIRL who broke her arms and legs in a crash which killed her stepfather is "doing well" after completing 20 months of hospital treatment.

The child was just five years old and looking forward to Christmas when the man she knew as `daddy', Paul Donnelly, was killed in a two-car collision at Magheraknock Road in Ballynahinch, Co Down on December 12 2015.

An inquest yesterday heard how the valiant efforts of passers-by - including three off-duty medics - saved her life, after she was rescued from a burning car.

Donnelly, from Colinview in the Springfield area of west Belfast, died at the scene after suffering catastrophic head and chest injuries.

It was revealed that the 36-year-old had a mix of the powerful drugs diazepam and pregabalin in his system when the crash happened on a damp evening at around 7.30pm.

They had not been prescribed by his doctor - the codeine in his system was the only drug on his prescription and was used to treat the pain from an injury caused when he was shot by police in 2002 as he attempted to bomb the old car tax office in Belfast's Upper Queen Street.

State pathologist James Lyness said the father-of-three had suffered "multiple injuries" and was likely rendered unconscious by the head injury caused in the collision between his Ford Focus and a Vauxhall Vectra belonging to Piotr Wasiak.

The inquest heard that Raymond Philips, who stopped at the scene, was alerted by "children screaming and wailing" from the car, which "had fire coming from its engine".

He used his own car's fire extinguisher to put out the flames and noticed the young girl trapped in a child's booster seat in the back.

"She asked about her father and I released the child from the car seat and handed her out the window."

Other passers-by, including nurse Emma Cunningham and doctor Clare Alexander, tried to reach Donnelly, despite smoke still billowing dangerously from the vehicle, and check for signs of life.

Coroner Patrick McGurgan paid tribute to their bravery, praising them for being "prepared to put your own lives at risk to try and save other people with no regard for your own safety".

Checks of his pulse indicated he had probably died shortly after the impact.

Ms Cunningham described how the child, now free of the wreckage, was "crying and shouting for bandages".

She told the inquest how she had "kept talking to her to try and keep her awake" and the little girl "said her dad Paul was driving and going to pick up her mother from work."

Dr Alexander, who was on her way to an out-of-hours shift with `Lagan Doc', said "it was horrific".

"I think the most traumatic part was the child," she said, agreeing medics "could have been dealing with two deaths".

"I was asked by the two male ambulance drivers to accompany her to the hospital. I kept talking to her and she seemed to calm."

The child's mother, Natasha McDonagh said she and Donnelly had been in a relationship for four years and he "viewed her as his own daughter".

"She still talks about him. She's doing well and was discharged from physio last week - although they'll still want to see her for check-ups.

"She still carries the trauma but is doing well and she's positive. She broke two arms and two legs."

Ms McDonagh said the couple had "talked about after Christmas starting a family of our own".

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