An eye witness who arrived at a road collision that resulted in a garda receiving fatal injuries heard someone say “Hold on Gary. Hold on Gary”, as he lay seriously injured in a damaged patrol car.
Giving evidence in the case against Martin McDermott (25) of Castlegrove, Raphoe, who is charged with the manslaughter of 24-year-old Buncrana based Garda Gary McLoughlin at Lisfannon, Burt in December 2009, witness Columba McDaid from Derry said he and a friend were returning from Letterkenny when they were overtaken shortly after 1am by a car travelling at “high speed”.
McDermott pleaded guilty at Letterkenny Circuit Court to a number of charges including dangerous driving causing the death of Garda McLoughlin drink-driving and driving without insurance.
Three to four minutes later they came across the scene of a serious traffic collision and were asked to stop and remain there by a plain clothed garda member.
He said at that point he could hear some telling the seriously injured garda twice to “Hold on Gary”.
Garda McLoughlin, from Fenagh in Co. Leitrim died of his injures in hospital the following day.
Yesterday, during the second day of the trial the jury were shown pictures of the crash scene that showed the engine and gearbox of the Vauxhall Astra car driven by Martin McDermott were ripped out and ended up on the roadside.
A large amount of debris could also be seen across the “area of impact”, including parts of the garda patrol car Garda McLoughlin was travelling in, as well as the spare tyre, bonnet, a petrol can and front wheel from the Red Astra involved in the crash.
A brown ‘Kickers’ shoe belonging to Mr. McDermott was also found some distance from the car, as were a number of small pools of blood.
Garda Kevin Coyle said on examination of the inside of the Astra they found hair and a “blood-like” substance on the inside passenger side of the windscreen.
Forensic Collisions Investigator Garda Kevin Giles said as a result of the impact between the two vehicles he believed the Astra was travelling in a “side-slip” movement at between 30 degrees and 45 degrees at the point of impact and the damage was caused to the Astra’s windscreen by its driver as he was “flung” across the car. The court heard Mr. McDermott was also thrown out the passenger window after the impact.
On the first day of the trial the garda who pursued McDermott before the accident was accused of breaching the Garda code of conduct by pursuing the red Astra needlessly.
Retired Detective Garda Noel Jones told the court how he pursued the car driven by McDermott at speeds of up to 180Kmph for a distance of more than 31 km. He was driving a unmarked Ford Mondeo when he noticed the car pulling out at speed from the Grove filling station at Bridgend at around 1.18am on December 13th.
The unmarked car followed the UK registered Astra to the roundabout at Bridgend where it took off at speed towards Letterkenny. Mr. Jones said the car travelled at speeds in excess of 180kmph and turned off the main road near Newtowncunningham before turning back towards Derry. He said he lost sight of the car on three different occasions and overtook up to eight cars during the pursuit. He said he had lost sight of the Astra for 14km before it collided with the marked patrol car driven by Garda McLoughlin.
Mr. Jones said he had activated the flashing lights on the patrol car when he overtook the first vehicle but later turned them off and used them only when he approached other vehicles. This was so that the driver of the Astra did not think the patrol car was behind him and so that “this would not be an issue in driving him on”.
When he arrived at the scene of the accident the patrol car was sitting backwards pushed into a gap in a field. The Astra was sitting 30 or 40 metres further down the road and there was also an engine of a car lying on the road, he said.
The right front area of the patrol car was compressed and the driver door appeared to be ripped off completely. There was someone standing about 30 to 40 yards away opposite the patrol car.
The garda admitted under cross-examination from Peter Finlay (SC) for the defence that he had no knowledge that the driver of the car was armed or had carried out a serious offence such as a robbery.
Mr. Finlay said the Mr. Jones had been in breach of the garda code of conduct which clearly stated that a pursuit was not to carried out over minor offences or traffic offences.
Mr. Jones denied he had breached the code and said his pursuit of the car was controlled at all times, but this was challenged by Mr. Finlay.
“Your pursuit at high speed was staggering if you were able to travel the 31km on that night in 11 to 12 minutes and that indicates that you travelled at an excessive speed at all times.”
Mr. Jones said he believed he had acted correctly in performing his duties. “I have been a trained driver since 1981 and was trained in pursuits and I believe I acted correctly on the night. I made a call and I stand by this call and I believe that I was not gaining on him.”
The court also heard from Derry taxi drivers Billy McGrenaghan and William Kershaw. Both men said road conditions on the night were bad with frost visible.
The trial continues.