Happiest morning of Jack's life ... hours later he was killed in crash
Published 21/02/2013 | 00:00
It started off as the happiest day of young Jack Duffy's life.
That Saturday morning, the 19-year-old had received two letters – one offering him an engineering apprenticeship, the other informing him he had been selected to represent his college at an engineering convention. His family said he was delighted.
That evening he set off with his group of friends to celebrate a 21st birthday party at a nightclub in Magherafelt, about 15 miles from his Dunfane Park home in Ballymena. As he waved him off, his proud father Kevin did not know it would be the last time he would see his son alive.
After Jack became separated from friends inside the club, he missed their taxi home.
Later, he was struck by another taxi and killed as he began to walk out of the town along the Castledawson Road.
At an inquest into the young engineering student's death at Ballymena Courthouse on Tuesday, Kevin Duffy described his son as a "happy, carefree young lad".
The devastated dad said he last spoke to him at 6.30pm on Saturday, May 21, 2011, the evening prior to his death.
"It was the happiest day of his life," he said, telling of Jack's plans to celebrate the achievements at the birthday night out.
Mr Duffy said he received a phone call at 2am from Jack's friends telling him the group had become separated and they had been unable to find Jack. He texted and tried to call his son but got no response so reported him missing to police.
Four hours later he was told the shattering news that his son had been killed.
"I blame myself for not going out to look for Jack when I heard he had got separated," he told coroner Jim Kitson.
Witness Laura Wylie told how she passed a man matching Jack's description walking along the road at around 3.30am. She said she had swerved away from him in order to avoid hitting him, adding that he appeared to be thumbing for a lift.
Taxi driver Patrick Smith said he was heading along the Castledawson Road away from Magherafelt just after 3.30am.
He said he suddenly heard a loud noise and his windscreen shattered. When he stopped he discovered Jack lying in the road.
Mr Smith said he was unable to remember much due to the trauma it had inflicted on him.
Forensic scientist David Nicholson told the hearing he was satisfied Mr Smith's vehicle – a Volkswagen Transporter – was not travelling at excessive speed and had no mechanical defaults.
He said given the lack of street lighting, Mr Smith would not have had time to react to seeing Jack to avoid a collision regardless if his full lights were on or not.
The Public Prosecution Service decided Mr Smith had no criminal charges to answer.
A report showed Jack to have 234mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood and no drugs in his system.
His cause of death was given as fractures of his spine in his neck.
Mr Kitson said Jack's family had been left mourning the loss of a "young fella who was happy-go-lucky", while Mr Smith must live with the burden of "an accident it appears he was unable to avoid".