“Tadhg was conscious at the time as he was screaming, saying he was sorry, that’s all he was saying, is that he was sorry — ‘we are dead, I’m sorry we are going to die’.”
The statement given to gardaí by Fergal O’Sullivan shows the terror felt by Tadhg Murphy.
The Volkswagen Jetta he had been driving just moments before had bounced off a protruding stone, veered across the N71 near Glengarriff and through a gap in the wall, flipping and sliding down and falling into water at the bottom on an embankment – the water now filling the front of the car.
Mr Murphy, 19, of 3 Harbour View, Glengarriff, and another passenger, Michael Bowen, 40, of Ahakista, would die at the scene. Mr O’Sullivan and then-17-year-old Luke Harrington would survive, due to the heroic efforts of the former in dragging himself and then his companion to safety.
An inquest at Bantry courthouse outlined the tragic events of the early hours of August 3 last year – a night out that began with drinks at a venue in Glengarriff, then outside at nearby Pooleen picnic area, before the fateful road journey that saw Mr Murphy’s car plunge into the water after leaving the road.
Fergal O’Sullivan told gardaí of a busy night out, including with some people he did not really know, such as Mr Bowen. Mr O’Sullivan said Mr Murphy, his neighbour, went to the first location of the evening because his own cousin was unable to attend.
With the gathering at Pooleen wrapping up, at around 2.30am Tadhg Murphy got into his car, Mr Bowen in the seat behind him, Mr O’Sullivan in the other rear passenger seat, Luke Harrington the front seat passenger. Mr O’Sullivan, now 23, and Mr Harrington had their seatbelts on.
Approaching a “bad bend”, the car bumped off something. According to Luke Harrington’s evidence: “I think we turned over a few times before we hit the water.”
Mr O’Sullivan said he was dazed, the car upside down and the water coming into the vehicle. He began kicking and shouldering at the door, trying to get out. He noticed Luke “floating” in the water in the car.
“I then put my head up into the corner where there was still a pocket of air and I was preparing myself to die slowly,” he said.
The water stopped coming in, and he found a door handle and managed to force it a little. He felt a body and pulled that person out with him – Luke Harrington, who he dragged up onto a rock, before giving mouth-to-mouth for what felt like five minutes before the younger man spluttered out water. Then began the efforts to keep him alive.
“I was going in the back door of the car and I noticed that Luke wasn’t talking back to me and I asked him was he ok and to say yeah if he was. I turned around and I could see that he was shivering again and as a result, he was sliding back down the rock.
“Luke’s whole body was shaking, I think he was in some type of shock so I took off my t-shirt and put my chest up to his head to provide him with body heat.”
On stabilising Mr Harrington, Fergal O’Sullivan went back in through the door of the vehicle.
“I reached forward in the car for Tadhg. As I reached out I touched Tadhg and I knew by the touch that he was dead.”
There was no sign of Mr Bowen.
Mr O’Sullivan then carried Mr Harrington up the bank and onto the road, walking to Glengarriff Garda Station, where there was no answer, and then to the Dalewood estate, knocking on the door of George Pejig’s house and raising the alarm. A car they had tried to flag down on the way hadn’t stopped for them.
Later garda reports indicated their car had hit a rock on the side of the road, slightly damaging the driver side. The water into which the car landed, upside down, was of sufficient depth to fill the front but not the back of the vehicle. Weather and road conditions were good, the car was roadworthy. Speed was not a factor.
The coroner was told that the party was “pretty civilised” by witness Christine Power and that there was no drugs or spirits consumed, only beers. The bottles were even tidied away afterwards, the inquest heard.
However, the inquest heard from State Pathologist Dr Margaret Bolster that autopsy showed trace elements of cocaine, as well as alcohol, were found in both men’s systems, something likely to have impaired their ability to get out of the vehicle.
Coroner Frank O’Connell delivered a verdict of accidental death, caused by drowning, in the cases of both men. He paid tribute to Mr O’Sullivan’s heroism and added: “I would hope that lessons would be learned from this terrible tragedy – there is no avoiding the fact that these deaths are associated with intoxication.”