A devastated Co Down dad whose daughter was killed in a horror car smash last night spoke for the first time about his family’s ongoing pain. In an exclusive interview with the Sunday Life, heartbroken Tommy Rowden from Downpatrick pleaded with young drivers across Northern Ireland to follow road safety guidelines.
The dad-of-four’s daughter was killed when the car she was travelling in ploughed into a lamppost in the Church Street area of the town in the early hours of July 27.
The popular 19-year-old was rushed to the Royal Victoria Hospital with serious head injuries, but lost her fight for life.
Jennifer, who was hoping to begin a career in nursing, was a keen Gaelic football and netball player.
Mr Rowden hopes his daughter’s death, which sent shockwaves through the local community, will persuade other young people to be careful when driving.
Said the Co Down man: “This whole thing is just hard to take in and I can’t believe we have lost our beautiful daughter. I don’t think we will ever get over this terrible tragedy.
“When we were in the hospital and Jennifer was in a coma, I was just hoping and praying that she would pull through, but I knew the situation wasn’t good.
“She was my blue-eyed girl and I don’t know how I’m going to live without her. Every time I think of her lying in that hospital bed it just breaks my heart.
“If there are still young people out there who drive recklessly then, I would beg them to stop because they have no idea what devastation they could cause.
“If they could step into our world for a brief moment, then they would realise the horrors of what can emerge from a car accident.
“You never think that something like this will come to your door and nothing can prepare you for it. I just hope that Jennifer is the last young person in this society who loses their life in such a tragic accident.”
The 56-year-old also told how his family bears no “ill-feeling” to the driver of the car.
He added: “I still want to know what happened that night, but that can come at a later time. We are just grieving for a beautiful human being at the moment.
“We also recognise that the young lad driving the car is in a terrible state and he will have to live with what happened for the rest of his life.
“His parents are also deeply upset by what happened and we know their lives will never be the same again. It’s just such a terrible tragedy for everyone and an experience that I wouldn’t like to see anyone endure.”
The distraught father also paid tribute to the hundreds of people who attended his daughter’s funeral, adding: “The number of people who turned out to pay tribute to Jennifer was incredible.
“We have had tremendous support from friends and from relatives in Belfast and Dublin. They have all in their own way helped us through a very difficult time.
“I would also like to thank the emergency services, staff at the Royal and our police family liaison officer for doing everything they could to help us.”
Hundreds of messages of support for the family were also left on the social networking website, Bebo.
The teenager’s mum Oonagh also paid tribute to her youngest daughter, adding: “Jennifer was just so full of life and just lived for the weekend.
“She was such a popular girl and was just looking forward to starting her career as a nurse. We can’t believe this has happened and we all just miss her so much.
“This is a very difficult time for our family and we will never forget the happy memories we had with Jennifer. We have had a lot of support and we can’t thank people enough.”
The chairman of Down District Council, Colin McGrath, praised Mr Rowden for urging young people to be more careful on the roads.
Added the SDLP man: “I cannot begin to understand the pain and suffering that Tommy and Oonagh and their family are experiencing at this time, but I continue to remember them in my thoughts and prayers.
“They have lost their cherished daughter and little can be done to ease their pain. However, I welcome Tommy taking this opportunity to express his wish to educate other young drivers that they must take care when driving on our roads. Many people's lives are ruined as a result of this tragic accident in Downpatrick.
“The Rowden family's lives will never be the same again.
“Other young people sustained injuries that they will carry for a long time and the young driver has received a life sentence of sorts with what he will have to carry into his future as a result of this accident.
“I would urge all young drivers to think clearly — will your actions affect you or others and is the risk worth it?”
The 18-year-old driver of the car appeared at Downpatrick Magistrates Court last Thursday charged with causing grievous bodily injury by dangerous driving and driving whilst unfit through alcohol or drugs.
Fire-fighters were forced to use specialised hydraulic cutting equipment to free Jennifer from the Peugeot. Teenager Damien McCartney was also treated in hospital for head injuries.
Anyone who may have witnessed the accident has been asked to contact 0845 600 8000.