AN INQUEST into the death of a rally navigator who lost his life in an accident during the 2010 Donegal International Rally was held in Letterkenny on Tuesday.
Thomas Maguire (26) of Moneymore, Longwood, Co Meath, tragically lost his life ‘in pursuit of a sport he loved’ when he died as a result of injuries sustained in an accident in the Donegal International Rally on June 19, 2010.
Coronor John Cannon heard Mr Maguire was competing as a navigator with his friend and driver Shane Buckley when their Citroen C2 went off the road at Anny, Glenvar during the Knockalla stage of the rally.
In his deposition Garda Kevin Giles, the forensic collision investigator who had preserved the scene, said there were tyre marks left by the vehicle prior to leaving the road and it was evident that the Citroen had hit the grass with its rear tyres first while on a right bend.
He said the Citroen was mid-air for 46 metres before hitting a clay embankment and rolled down a further 50 metres before coming to a rest, 20 metres below the road.
Garda Giles said the first impact would have been the ‘more severe’ and bits of debris showed the trail from the first point of impact until the point of rest.
He added that the engine had dislodged itself as the vehicle had rolled down the ravine, but the vehicle itself had stood up to a ‘great deal of force’ following the initial impact.
The garda said from the three-degree launch angle, the 6.86 metre drop in height and the 46 metres it travelled until impact, he could calculate that the Citroen had travelled 33.1 metres per second and therefore a speed of 120kmh.
Garda Giles also stated that although this was a ‘very fast’ section of the rally there were no severe bends on this stretch of the Knockalla stage.
Shane Buckley, the driver of the Citroen, had been in a coma for four and a half weeks after the accident and could not remember anything from the day of the accident. He sustained numerous serious injuries including a fractured skull and a broken leg in the accident.
He told the inquest that he and his friend Thomas had travelled to Donegal on June 12 and did a ‘full recce’ of the course and passed all the safety checks with their car. Mr Buckley said he could not remember anything from the accident, but said road conditions were dry.
After hearing from Mr Buckley that he was recovering well from his injuries, Mr Cannon said considering ‘all the bashing’ he had gone through, ‘it’s extraordinary you’re alive at all’.
Thomas McGarry, who owns land adjacent to where the accident occurred, told the inquest that he thought the Citroen had hit a stone on the road side before going airborne.
Matt Doherty, a former clerk of the course, was also a spectator at the same location, and was the first to get to Citroen when it came to its point of rest.
Mr Doherty said he had been on the phone to assistant clerk of the course, Declan McCay, when when he heard the Citroen coming over the brow of the hill.
When he heard the crash, Mr Doherty told the clerk to immediately send the emergency services and made his way down to the car. He first went to the navigator, Mr Maguire and could not feel a pulse, and then felt a pulse on the driver, Mr Buckley.
Mr Doherty remained at the scene and liased with the emergency services and also called Malin Coast Guard to request the helicopter which was on standby in Sligo.
He said he rang the coast guard ‘three or four times and kept getting the same answer’, that the helicopter would be there in 40 minutes.
“To this day I still ask myself why the helicopter never arrived,” said Mr Doherty who also consoled the Mr Maguire’s brother, Robert, whom he saw at the scene.
The witness added that he had seen many cars catch the grass on the side of the road at this stretch over the years and there had never been an accident. He added that he did not believe that this was a ‘hazardous’ stretch and noted there was ‘a lot faster sections’ at Knockalla.
Dr Gerry O’Dowd, Consultant Pathologist at Letterkenny General Hospital, who carried out the post mortem, said Mr Maguire had sustained significant injuries to the head and neck region in the accident which ‘most likely led to an instantaneous death’.
He said the most significant fractures were to the skull base, close to the neck region, which was one of the ‘most fragile areas of the body and hardest to protect’, even with optimum protection and stated Mr Maguire’s death was due to multiple injuries consistent with the involvment in a motorvehicle accident.
Paul Lyons, the rally’s safety officer, the level of hazard at this stage had not changed and he had over the years seen ‘four to five thousand competitive passes’ without incident.
Sergeant John McDaid, who examined the Citroen, said the safety cage had buckled and distorted on the left hand passenger side from the impact, but it ‘appeared to have held out adequately’ which was ‘most definitely a saving aspect for the driver’.
Mr Cannon noted that all the evidence given by witnesses corroborated in this ‘very tragic story’ and that the jury could ‘clearly classify their verdict as an accident’.
“This is not like a normal road traffic accident, all be it such a hazardous sport, it;s assuring to note the huge precautions and safety measures that are taken and the way I see it all precautions possible were taken.
“The point of the accident is not considered to have been an area of tragedy, so it’s easy for us to come to a conclusion. The evidence is quite clear of what happened on that day.”
The jury returned a unanimous verdict of death due to multiple injuries consistent with the involvement in a motorvehicle accident.
Mr Cannon expressed his sincere sympathies to the family of Mr Maguire. “Rallying is a very dangerous and hazardous Sport, but all competitors are aware and know the risks involved and safety factors and procedures are dealt with priority.”
Sergeant Bridget McGowan echoed the sentiments of the coroner and offered her condolences on behalf of An Garda Siochána and paid tribute to all emergency services, spectators and rally staff who came to aid at the accident. “The Maguire family would like to wish Shane and his family all the best and want to let him know that they hold no ill will towards him in any way, this was just a very tragic accident in a sport that both their son Thomas and Shane loved.”
Adressing the inquest Mr Buckley said on that tragic day he had not only lost his navigator, but also a close friend. “I wish to express my sincere sympathies Thomas’ parents, Tom and Maura, his sisters Suzanne and Calista, brothers Mark and Robert.
“I can only imagine the pain and suffering they have gone through having to bury a son and a brother, which is the hardest cross to carry.
“We both loved the sport and went into rallying knowing the dangers, but we never thought it would end like this. Tommy will always be sadly be missed bymyself and my family.”