An inquest into the death of a man following a road crash at the Racecourse Road junction on the old Newry Road heard last week that the car involved had rammed an unmarked garda patrol car minutes before the fatal collision.
State Pathologist Dr. Marie Cassidy told the hearing that Daniel Connors of Parkside, Portadown, County Armagh died on the 18th of June 2010 two days after the impact - of head, neck and chest injuries.
The dead man’s brother - who was a passenger in the car, told the hearing that his brother thought he was being chased by other Travellers and would have stopped if he had known the guards were involved.
Mick Connors told the inquest they were in Dundalk that afternoon to sell a car and claimed that the Vauxhall Cavalier they were travelling in had been rammed and pinned against a wall by a light blue Ford Mondeo. He said his brother reversed back and drove off to escape as at that stage “We thought it was Travellers wanting to do us harm”.
He said the next thing he remembered was people trying to take the doors off the car.
Three gardai who were in the unmarked Mondeo told how they had been notified that Danny Connors was suspected of being the driver of a Vauxhall Cavalier that had earlier in the day been involved in the ramming of a PSNI vehicle north of the border and the car was also wanted in connection with a burglary in the North a week before.
They said they had planned to stop the car by safely blocking it in but the driver failed to stop.
Detective Garda James Kilgannon who was in the front seat passenger of the Mondeo said when they were facing the Cavalier head on he activated the sirens and lights and when the Cavalier slowed down he recognised Danny Connors as the driver. He said “He looked surprised to see us” and appeared to be stopping but Garda Kilgannon said as he unclipped his seatbelt to get out he heard a revving and the Vauxhall shot forward shaking the patrol car ‘violently’ pushing it back about a foot and a half. He said the car then forced its way past them and drove off towards the McSwiney Street junction.
The inquest heard Danny Connors failed to stop for other gardai and drove through a red light at the Lisdoo junction, before the collision happened as he tried to overtake a learner driver who was under instruction, and turning right at the Racecourse Road junction.
Driving instructor Janine McMahon said she had checked the mirror and there was no sign of any car coming behind and there was no oncoming traffic. She said she heard a loud bang and the car went into a spin and she could see the Cavalier ‘going into the air’. She said it was a dry, warm day and road conditins were good.
When a member of the Connors family asked if Daniel’s car had impacted the Fiesta first, Ms. McMahon confirmed that it had saying “It came up on the outside”.
Det. Garda Dave Devanney said the Cavalier was about 50 feet in front of them when they came across it in the Long Walk area and while it appeared to be slowing down it then picked up speed and ramed the front of the Mondeo. He said it mounted the footpath and rammed it a second time. He said the car then took off and drove via Legion Avenue onto the Castletown Road where he said it drove at high speed and overtaking vehicles even though there was a primary school in the area.
The garda said the driving out the old Newry Road was ‘erratic and totally reckless’. He said the car did not appear to make any attempt to slow down as it approached the Racecourse Road junction and ‘appeared to want to overtake’.
The jury heard the unmarked patrol car was driving at 70mph and the Cavalier was driven faster than that.
The third garda in the Mondeo, Majella Quinn in her deposition said that when the driver of the Vauxhall realised they were in an unmarked patrol car he “speeded up and rammed full force into us” before it mounted the footpath to escape.
The hearing was told that forensic examination, disproved the allegation that the Cavalier had been rammed or pinned against a wall before the fatal crash. A Garda Ombusdaman investigation also disproved the allegations and the DPP had directed no prosecution.
The jury returned a verdict of death by misadventure, where an intended action had unintentional consequences.