DRIVER The late Sandra Herbert. PASSENGER The late Rachel Herbert.
Black ice resulted in the tragic death of mother and daughter
A tragic car accident which claimed the lives of a mother and her teenage daughter was caused as a result of black ice on a minor road resulting in their car overturning in an icy river.
Sandra Herbert (39) of Barnfield, Knockmore and her 13-year-old daughter Rachel both drowned when her Toyota Avensis car left the Knockmore to Corroy road and overturned into a river on December 9 last.
Three teenage friends of Rachel - Rebecca Langan (14), from Currabaggan, Knockmore, Co Mayo, Kate McLoughlin (14) from Cloghans, Ballina, and Carrie McAndrew (13) from Belgarrow, Foxford - who were in the back seat of the car managed to escape and raise the alarm but frantic efforts to rescue the mother and daughter failed.
The three survivors told the inquest into Sandra and Rachel’s deaths of how the car skidded and tumbled ‘round and round like a tumble drier’ before ending up in the river. The girls were being driven by Ms Herbert to a Foróige disco in Ardagh Community Centre.
The inquest heard evidence from witnesses who attended the scene that both Sandra and Rachel had passed away when they were taken from the car less than 20 minutes after the car entered the water. It was revealed that the water entered the car straight away through glass broken in the impact and the depth of the river was in excess of 57cm.
Ian Kelly, who is a garda based in Tuam and lives near the crash site, was the first on the scene and he explained that the road was a ‘notorious frost pocket’ and their were several accidents on that stretch of road.
Inspector Joe Doherty outlined that the temperature at the time was minus two degrees Celsius and the Avensis rotated 180 degrees after skidding on the ice. Garda Martin McNicholas explained there were overhanging trees - which have since been cut down - along the road and it was difficult to keep your footing on the black ice. He said the car came around a left turn with a dip in the road when it hit the ice and added there was no speed involved in the accident.
Kate McLoughlin told the inquest that Rachel and Sandra were in the front seat with their seat belts on and the three girls were in the back seat and were not wearing their seat belts. She said they were travelling at a normal speed when ‘there was a bump and the car skidded’ which resulted in Sandra losing control of the steering.
“There was a big splash. I did not realise the car was on its roof in the river. Water started coming in. To me it looked like Sandra had fallen over on Rachel. I must have had a blackout because when I woke up I was lying on the back passenger door on the driver’s side.
“I remember when I woke up I tried to pull Sandra’s head out of the water. I was pulling at her hair but could not move her. I heard Rebecca and Carrie screaming so I started screaming. I could see Sandra but could not see Rachel. Sandra was not making any sound. I was freezing cold.”
With the help of a light from a mobile phone, Kate managed to open the back passenger door and helped the three of them out of the car. They were in the river and managed to climb through thorns and out of the ten foot bank and raise the alarm.
Carrie McAndrew recalled that while in the car the water was up to her shoulders and they were in darkness. Rebecca Langan said the water was above her waist and they could not hear anything from Sandra or Rachel.
Evidence was also heard from local people who arrived at the scene after hearing the girls shouting for help. Liam and Dermot Keane explained that they jumped into the river and managed to take Rachel from the car. CPR was performed on the bank but there were no signs of life. They had to move the car from the bank to free Sandra but they said there was no sign of life from her when she was removed.
Pathologist Dr Fadel Bennani who carried out the two postmortems said there were no head injuries received in the impact and this was a classic case of drowning. In reply to questions by Dr Eleanor Fitzgerald, coroner for North Mayo, he replied that the severe cold may have resulted in them going into shock and losing consciousness. He said death would have been quick.
The jury recorded a verdict of accidental death and recommended that barriers be erected along the roadside to prevent vehicles from entering the river.
Dr Fitzgerald said the loss of life of a mother and daughter was a double tragedy and extended her sympathy to Sandra’s husband, James and his two sons Daryl and Ryan. Inspector Doherty also extended his sympathy saying this was the saddest incident he had to go to. He said the Gardaí would be available to assist the family and the three girls in any way they can.
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