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Stormont cuts led to road flood that caused crash death of my girl... it is responsible

By Chris McCullough

The parents of a girl killed in an accident have urged a Stormont department to learn from the tragedy and take action.

Thirteen-year-old Georgia Doherty died after the car she was travelling in lost control when it hit surface water.

The accident occurred on the A6 road heading towards Londonderry on February 22 last year.

Georgia was from Redcastle in Co Donegal.

The black Ford Focus she was in was being driven by her sister Lisa McCole as they returned home after visiting another sister in Belfast.

An inquest in the city yesterday heard how a number of blocked drains on a section of the road, which carries 15,000 vehicles daily, caused water to run across the A6. This was further added to by surface run-off from adjacent fields.

Coroner Joe McCrisken concluded that the accident was caused by insufficient drainage on the A6.

He said he would write to the Minister for Infrastructure Chris Hazzard about the tragedy and to highlight concerns over surface water on the road.

Speaking afterwards, Georgia's father George said: "There is nothing Lisa could have done to avoid the accident. We have heard in the court that the crash occurred due to the blocked drains and the surplus water flowing across the road.

"The Department for Infrastructure said in court they did not have the resources to clean all the drains in Derry once a year.

"I urge the department to take lessons from this accident and from this court.

"They are aware the water flows across that road frequently. This is not the first time it has happened. We, as a family, hope the department takes action at this spot and ensure the drains are cleaned more often."

The inquest heard from Robert McCartney from Transport NI, who said the drains were not being cleaned out as often as they should be due to budget cuts and staff shortages.

Mr McCartney said: "There are 32,000 gullies in Derry and we only have the capacity to clean 9,000 per year.

"When we receive weather alerts we prioritise the gullies in hotspots and try to clean them out first.

"Prior to the accident we didn't know if those particular gullies were routinely being cleaned out as that information was not available.

"However, four days after the accident the gullies on that section of the A6 were cleaned out."

Mr McCartney also said: "Since the accident I cannot say if those particular gullies on that part of the A6 are cleaned out on a regular basis."

It also emerged during the inquest that there had been three non-injury accidents at that same spot between 2006 and 2010, but it wasn't known if surface water was to blame for these.

After hearing evidence from witnesses on the scene, and from detailed police and forensics reports, Mr McCrisken ruled that the death was instant due to multiple injuries.

He also ruled that Lisa lost control of the car when it started hydroplaning on surplus water due to the insufficient number of proper functioning drains on the road and the road design.

Coroner McCrisken said: "The accident happened around 5pm on the A6 just two miles from Drumahoe. Surface water was witnessed on a section of the road.

"Witnesses said the car in which Lisa and Georgia were travelling in spun around and hit an oncoming Vauxhall Insignia.

"People at the scene delivered first aid to Lisa and Georgia but neither were at first responsive. Georgia was taken to Altnagelvin Hospital but despite intensive efforts she passed away at 6.20pm.

"Both cars involved in the collision were of good repair and seat belts undoubtedly prevented both Lisa and the driver of the Insignia from losing their lives.

"The investigating police officer has reported some of the drains on a stretch of that road were completely blocked, while some were partially blocked on the top preventing water from entering them.

"Water was flowing across the road causing hydroplaning of the car Lisa was driving. There is nothing she could have done to avoid this accident.

"It is my ruling that Georgia's death was instant and was the result of an accident caused by insufficient drainage on the A6 road.

"Excess water from the blocked drains met additional surface run-off from the fields.

"This was a serious hazard to road users.

"I am writing a letter to the Minister for Infrastructure Chris Hazzard to highlight this accident and the surface water on this stretch of road."

Afterwards, Mr Doherty said the family needed time to absorb the findings.

"We need to all sit down as a family and discuss what to do next," he added.

"The coroner ruled the accident was caused by the surplus water on the road due to blocked drains, and that responsibility lies with the department.

"Nothing we can do will bring Georgia back, but we need to discuss what to do next."

A Department for Infrastructure said last night: "The department is aware of the outcome of the coroner's inquest and would like to extend its sympathy and condolences to the family.

"Every death on our roads is a tragedy.

"The newly formed Department for Infrastructure now has responsibility for both the safety and maintenance of our roads.

"Road safety remains a priority for the department, and the coroner's findings will now be carefully examined."

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