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Woman struck by train while trying to save pet dog


Anton McNulty

The inquest into the death of a 70-year-old woman who was struck by a train near Straide has taken place.
Bridget McHale of Knockshanvalley, Straide, died on April 1, 2017 when she was struck by the Manulla to Ballina train at a level crossing at Knockshanvalley, Straide, at approximately 11.30am.
The inquest heard that the retired cook and mother of two was walking her dog near her home when the dog, named Prince, strayed onto the line as the train approached.
Train-driver Jonathan Hopkins explained that he was approaching the level crossing in the direction of Ballina when he saw a dog on the crossing. He proceeded to sound the train’s horn.
The dog moved in the direction of Ballina, and then lay down on the track. At this point he said a woman walked down the side of the track towards the dog. He continued to sound the horn and had the brakes in the emergency position.
“The woman was reaching in over the rail to try to get the dog off but then she moved onto the middle of the tracks completely and hunched over the dog. At this point the train was more or less on the crossing,” he said, adding that the train then struck the woman.
Mrs McHale and her dog were both killed instantly by the impact of the train and the emergency services were contacted. The first people on the scene were ambulance paramedics who informed the inquest that her injuries were incompatible with life.

‘In great spirits’
James McHale, the husband of Mrs McHale, was not present at the inquest, but his statement to gardaí was read out by Inspector Gary Walsh during the inquest. He explained they had been married for 51 years and had lived in Knockshanvalley for the last 13 years.
The night before the accident he explained they had been to a dance in the Gateway Hotel in Swinford and had a ‘great night’. Mrs McHale got up at 6am to look after her horses and later that morning they sat around the kitchen table reading the Saturday papers.
“She was in great spirits,” he said. “At around 10.30am I left the house again and spoke to Bridie for the last time.” He explained that his wife had told him that she was going to bring their dog for a walk, and that she would meet her husband in an hour’s time. “She would walk the dog ‘Prince’ every day at least twice daily and always the same route,” he added.
Mr McHale found out about the accident later that day when he was visited by Supt Joe Doherty. When he visited the scene, he was shown the dog’s lead and name tag.

Natural human instinct
Garda Vincent O’Boyle said there were 18 passengers on the train but they did not witness the accident, and the line was closed for five hours to allow an investigation.
Mr Tony O’Brien, an accident investigator with Irish Rail, said there were no underlying causes for the accident and there were no recommendations.
Dr Fadel Bennani, the consultant pathologist who performed the postmortem, said that Mrs McHale suffered serious injuries as a result of the impact with the train.
The jury recorded a verdict of accidental death, and Mr Patrick O’Connor, coroner for Mayo, expressed his sincere sympathies to Mr McHale and his family. He said it is often a natural human instinct for a person to put their life in jeopardy to save a pet and unfortunately that is what happened to Mrs McHale. He also expressed his sympathy to the train’s driver and staff, and to the emergency personnel who came on the scene.

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