Belfast Telegraph

Grim weekend on Northern Ireland roads leaves five people dead

By Joanne Fleming

Two soldiers killed during a weekend of carnage on Northern Ireland roads were part of an army battalion due to leave soon for Afghanistan, it has emerged.

Warm tributes have been paid to Lance Corporal David Gwilt and Rifleman Dale Harris, both 24, who served with the Lisburn based 2nd Battalion The Rifles.

Their Fiat Punto was involved in a collision with a tractor on the Ballyconnelly Road in Cullybackey on Friday night.

The death toll rose again on Saturday afternoon when Niall Murphy (19), from Newry, and Joan Connor (67), from Drogheda, died after a Ford Fiesta and a Nissan Qashqai collided on the Dublin Road in Newry shortly before 5.30pm.

The teenager is understood to have died at the scene. Mrs Connor was taken to a nearby hospital, where she died as a result of her injuries.

A man also died in hospital on Friday as a result of injuries received in a crash in Loughgall, Co Armagh on Wednesday afternoon. Originally from Lithuania, Andrius Liberis (25) had been living in Portadown.

In a statement, 2nd Battalion The Rifles, based at Thiepval Barracks in Lisburn, said the tragedy involving Rifleman Harris, from Barnsley, and Lance Corporal Gwilt, from Bedford, had come as a "tremendous shock".

"David and Dale were much liked, professional and hugely competent soldiers who had fantastic futures ahead of them," the statement read. "The whole battalion is deeply saddened by their loss and our heartfelt condolences go to their families and friends at this most difficult time."

The battalion currently has one company of around 100 soldiers serving at Camp Bastion in Afghanistan and another company commencing a tour of duty in the Afghan capital, Kabul.

North Antrim MLA Mervyn Storey said the deaths were "tragic news" and a reminder to take care on rural roads.

TUV MLA Jim Allister said: "Two more deaths on the roads in North Antrim are not just new statistics but deep heartbreak and loss for further families.This has been a bad year for fatalities on our roads."

Cullybackey councillors Tommy Nicholl and Billy Henry who live near the crash scene at the Lisnahunshin Road junction also extended their condolences.

In Newry, independent councillor Jack Patterson, who knows the family of Niall Murphy, extended his condolences.

"It is very sad. Niall worked in the Francis Court Hotel in Newry where he was a waiter. He was a hard-working young man," he said. SDLP councillor John McArdle said the crash happened just outside Newry in what "could be a very dangerous area" for drivers.

Police have appealed for anyone who witnessed any of the recent collisions to contact them.

Forty-eight people have died on Northern Ireland roads this year so far. By August 1 last year, there were 34 deaths.

PSNI Road Policing Team's ACC Stephen Martin described the devastation a road death brings to families, friends and local communities as "immeasurable".

"This sharp spike has again brought into focus the real need for all road users to take responsibility for their actions," he said.

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