Witness’ tears as she tells of fatal fight between best pals
A young woman who witnessed a fight between two friends that resulted in the death of Darren O’Neill broke down as she gave evidence about the fatal incident.
Mr O’Neill (22) died two days after he was punched by Joseph Dorrian during a trip they took to Tyrella Beach with two females in June 2019.
Dorrian (23), from Lakeview in Crumlin, is on trial at Downpatrick Crown Court for the manslaughter of Mr O’Neill.
Dorrian denies the charge and claims he was acting in self-defence.
During the second day of the trial the young woman who accompanied the friends on the daytrip gave evidence via video-link.
She revealed she knew Mr O’Neill prior to June 27, 2019 but had never met Dorrian, who was driving his father’s Seat Arona.
The 20-year-old confirmed she and her friend were picked up, they stopped at an off-licence in west Belfast before travelling to Tyrella near Newcastle, and said “everyone was in a good mood” during the journey.
Saying she, her friend and Mr O’Neill consumed alcohol while at the beach, the woman said she didn’t see Dorrian drink anything. She said they listened to music, Dorrian and Mr O’Neill went into the water, then the four of them returned to the car park.
The woman was asked what happened prior to the two men arguing. She said: “I think Darren said he wanted to go to Newcastle and Joe said something like ‘look at the state of you’, because he was drunk.
“Darren got into Joe’s car and this was when he started driving the car and doing handbrake turns.
“Darren started driving the car up and down the field and he was driving it pretty fast, because I remember him driving towards us and me and my friend sort of like ran away, because we were scared, because he was really drunk and he didn’t really know what he was doing.”
The witness described Dorrian as “agitated at this point” and that she heard him say he was going to “slap” Mr O’Neill when he got out of the car.
Asked about what happened when the car came to a stop, she said: “Joe shouted: ‘What are you doing, that’s a DLA car’. At that point Darren was still in the car and the window was up, so he got out of the car and they were shouting at each other. As they were screaming and shouting at each other, Joe was tapping his cheek saying: ‘Hit me’. Joe was saying that to Darren and Darren hit him, but I’m not sure if it was a punch or a slap. Then I seen Joe slapping him back.” The young woman said she tried to intervene, but was pushed away by Mr O’Neill.
She said: “I knew at this point I kind of wanted to go home so I went over and tried to break the fight up, to stop them fighting. I was saying: ‘Look, youse two are best friends, what are youse doing fighting?’ I got pushed out of the way and told to leave it by Darren, so then I realised it was really serious and heated.”
She said the men continued to argue and were “in each other’s faces”, then she saw “Joe punch Darren in the face”.
“When Darren was punched in the face he fell straight back. He was only down for a few seconds then he got straight back up again and walked towards us.”
The woman said: “I heard Joe saying: ‘Why are we even fighting, we’re friends. I’m sorry for hitting you’. Then Darren walked towards Joe, both of them started hugging and saying sorry to each other and saying they were best friends — and that’s when Darren collapsed in his arms.”
She said Dorrian laid Mr O’Neill on his side and it quickly became obvious he was unwell.
She said: “I realised he wasn’t breathing. His heart was still beating and his colour started changing.”
The woman summoned the help of passers-by and an ambulance was called. When asked to describe this scene, she became emotional and asked for a break.
When the hearing resumed, the woman was questioned by Brendan Kelly QC, representing Dorrian.
The witness agreed that Mr O’Neill appeared “unsteady on his feet” in CCTV footage from the off-licence in Belfast, that he was “hyper” that day and that he “seemed blocked”.
She also accepted that prior to Mr O’Neill driving the Seat Arona in the car park area, she had also been driving the vehicle after consuming alcohol.
The jury has already been told that the cause of Mr O’Neill’s death was the blow struck by Dorrian. This connected with his jaw and caused a tear in an internal artery that carries blood to the brain, which led to a bleed on the brain and a cardiac arrest.
Dorrian has denied a charge of manslaughter and has made the case that after being punched by Mr O’Neill he “responded immediately” in self-defence.
The trial continues.