Verdict of death by misadventure at Donegal inquest

Updated / Friday, 21 Sep 2018 20:24

Maura Porter was struck by a car near her home in December 2013

An inquest into the death of a 70-year-old Donegal woman who was knocked down by a car in 2013 has returned a verdict of death by misadventure.

Maura Potter was struck by a car a short distance from her home in Carndonagh on 30 December.

Speaking on behalf of her family, Ms Porter's daughter Davina said they still have unanswered questions.

Davina Porter said she lost her best friend on the day her mother was killed.

"She was a human person who walked and talked and put everyone else before herself. I lost my best friend that evening.

"She was left on a wet cold road, struggling to breath with awful injuries and those last memories are just horrific.

"After almost five years we are still waiting, waiting, waiting and today we are left with loads of questions which are still not answered."

She added: "We're haunted by those memories and we drive by this location every day as it's only 150 metres from our home."

She also said that, while her family had nothing but praise for frontline ambulance staff, they had serious concerns about the reaction times of ambulance times in rural Ireland.

"I want to say the paramedics who came that night were excellent and we appreciate all they did for mum. However, they called it rapid deployment but it is anything but because it is not working for people in rural areas," she said.

Earlier in the inquest at Buncrana courthouse, Ms Porter's husband Neil told how he knelt down at his wife's side and tried to comfort her while she lay on the road.

It was revealed how it took 50 minutes for an emergency ambulance to reach Ms Porter when it traveled from Letterkenny University Hospital to Carndonagh.

Director of the National Ambulance Service, Dr Cathal O'Donnell, revealed how there were just nine ambulances available for the entire of Co Donegal on the evening.

However, five of those ambulances had been delayed between two and four and a half hours at Letterkenny University Hospital trying to admit patients to the hospital.

The normal ambulance based in Ms Porter's hometown of Carndonagh was en route to an emergency call between Malin and Letterkenny.

An advanced paramedic team dispatched from Letterkenny University Hospital did reach Ms Porter at 6.25pm.

However, an adequately-equipped emergency ambulance only reached Ms Porter at 6.35pm, fifty minutes after the initial 999 call.

She was then brought to Altnagelvin Hospital in Derry, but died at 11.45pm from her injuries.

Dr O'Donnell admitted: "There were nine ambulances rostered on duty in Donegal but they were held up at Letterkenny Hospital for hours and hours minding patients in corridors when they should have been available for dispatch."

The tragedy sparked a review of ambulance response times in the region.

The key finding of the report was that the ambulance offload delay at Letterkenny University Hospital for several hours led to the depletion of ambulance services at Letterkenny hospital.

Investigating Garda Fiona McFadden revealed how phone records of the driver of the car which struck Ms Porter had received a mobile call at the time.

Garda McFadden gave evidence that Eircom phone records showed that the driver Austin Stewart received a phonecall at 5.41pm.

The inquest heard how the call inbound to Mr Stewart's mobile phone was from a landline from his employer in Letterkenny and lasted 12 seconds.

No evidence was given to determine if the incoming call was answered.

The outbound 999 call to the emergency services by Mr Stewart lasted for 35 minutes and was made at 5.41pm, according to Garda McFadden who viewed the phone a short time later.

However, Eircom records show no history of a 999 call being made on Mr Stewart's phone at the time.

Garda McFadden added that "a number of months later" the phone was sent for analysis to the garda technical bureau.

However, this showed that no calls were logged for the phone at all between 18 November 2013 and 27 January 2014.

Garda McFadden was questioned by coroner Dr Denis McCauley who asked if she thought the call was received before or after the accident.

She replied that she believes the call was made "before or during" the incident.

Garda Damian Mulkearns, a PSV investigator with An Garda Síochána, gave evidence on the condition of the car involved in the fatal crash.

He said that inspection of the Peugeot 407 car showed 378,146kms on the clock and was in a pre-accident serviceable condition.

However, he pointed out that an investigation of the car showed the front right tyre was worn excessively and that the front left dipped bulb of the car was not working.

He added that the car did not have a valid NCT certificate for the car at the time of the crash.

Forensic collision investigator Garda Kevin Giles carried out a full investigation into the crash.

He found that the damage to the vehicle was light which suggested the impact was a glancing blow rather than a full impact.

He added that the 17.6 metres travelled after the impact suggested that excessive speed was not a factor in the collision.

He added that despite Ms Porter wearing a red coat and white scarf, it would have been dark in nature as it was not reflective.

He added that the condition of the car, including the faulty light, would have to be considered a factor in the crash.

An Eircom cable which was found straddling both sides of the road after the collision was also raised by the coroner.

Garda Giles said that considering the evidence said that Ms Porter always used the footpath, the presence of the fallen cable would have to be considered a factor for her crossing the road.

He agreed that the fact that Ms Porter was not wearing reflective clothing would have to be considered as a factor in the case.

Seamus Gunn, solicitor for the Porter family, said he did not believe that the scene was preserved properly by gardaí.

He said a rosary ring dropped by Ms Porter at the scene was found the next day by her daughter Davina.

Garda Giles said he did not notice this ring.

Mr Joseph Phelan, who manages Eir's field technicians nationwide, said they receive 20 and 25 reports of their cables downed each day.

However, he said the vast majority of times they never came down of their own accord but mostly as a result of a fallen tree, a road accident or being damaged by an uploading vehicle.

Solicitor Mr Gunn pointed out that it was a stormy night with gales given in the weather forecast.

The pathologist who carried out the post-mortem examination at Alnagelvin Hospital in Derry, Dr James Lynas, declined to give evidence at the inquest.

However, coroner Dr McCauley read the details of his report to the inquest which found that Ms Porter suffered catastrophic injuries including damage to the skull, brain damage, bleeding in the lungs.

Dr Lynas suggested that death was due to multiple injuries as a result of a road traffic accident.

On discharging the jury of three men and five women, the coroner asked them to examine the actions of each party on the night when making their finding.

The jury returned a unanimous verdict of death by misadventure.

The jury also added a rider "That the National Ambulance Service and the HSE minimise and look at as much as practical the offload delay of patients from ambulances to hospitals."

They also found that Ms Porter died as a result of multiple injuries caused by a road traffic accident.

Corner Dr McCauley said he wanted to stress that the verdict of misadventure in no way apportioned blame on anyone but it was a description of the events on the evening.

All parties passed on their condolences to the Porter family for their loss.