Tributes paid from friends and politicians to father-of-two John Steele after tragic accident in Larne
A vigil has been held at a Larne bonfire site following the death of father-of-two John Steele, who fell from the pyre on Saturday evening.
A minute’s silence was held at the dismantled Antiville bonfire and Cairncastle Flute Band played several tunes.
The remnants of the dismantled bonfire were lit while wreaths were laid nearby.
Among those in attendance was Stormont Economy Minister and local Assembly member Gordon Lyons.
Presbyterian minister Ben Preston led prayers at the event.
He told the gathering: “We’re here from all over, from bonfire groups, from community groups, from the community here in Antiville and Craigyhill and we are here together for the family, for this community and for this people.”
Speaking to BBC Radio Ulster’s Good Morning Ulster this morning, Reverend Preston described how be believed there were “hundreds of people” in attendance at the vigil.
"The road was jammed with cars, people came from all over Northern Ireland,” he said. “We must remember the Steele family and this community.”
Local people say there were distressing scenes as relatives of the dead man arrived at the site shortly after the fatal accident.
Police and ambulance personnel were called to the scene just after 9.30pm on Saturday.
The bonfire, constructed from stacked wooden pallets, was dismantled on Sunday. A digger was brought onto the site to dismantle it as a mark of respect to the dead man’s family. Flowers were left at the scene, with the community said to be in shock.
The fatal fall in Antiville came as Larne had been making headlines for another bonfire in the town. Builders of a nearby fire in Craigyhill continued to add to the towering structure on Sunday.
It is estimated to be more than 198ft tall.
The Craigyhill bonfire group posted online that they would continue with their world record breaking attempt in memory of Mr Steele. The fire is due to be lit on Monday evening.
Police maintained a low-key presence at the bonfire site on Sunday morning.
The MP for the area is Sammy Wilson, who attended the scene and said the community is in shock.
“My thoughts and sympathy are with this man’s family,” said the DUP MP.
“It is a real tragedy at what is a special time of year for people in the loyalist community.
“The family are well-known in the area, and I am sure this will be greatly felt within the community.”
Mayor of Mid and East Antrim council Noel Williams extended his condolences following the death. “The loss of a young man’s life in an accident at a bonfire site in Larne is shocking and my thoughts are with his heartbroken loved ones,” he said.
“The community is hurting and my prayers are with everybody impacted by this awful tragedy.”
Stormont Justice Minister and Alliance Party leader Naomi Long tweeted: “Heartbreaking news that a young man has lost his life in a fall from a bonfire. Thinking of his family, friends and the wider community as they come to terms with this tragic loss of life.
“I hope people will give them space to grieve privately at such a difficult time.”
A vigil was planned at the site for Sunday night.
Police have appealed for witnesses to come forward.
PSNI Inspector Adrian Bryan said: “We understand that the man was assisting in the building of the bonfire when this tragic accident occurred. Our thoughts are very much with his family at this time.”
John Stewart, Ulster Unionist MLA for East Antrim, said it was “absolutely tragic news and my thoughts and deepest sympathies are with the man’s family, friends and the entire community at this really difficult time”.
“This was a terrible accident and the local community will rally round to give the family as much support as possible,” he said.
“I would appeal to everyone to cooperate with the investigation into what happened.”
Secretary of State Shailesh Vara MP said he was “saddened to learn of this tragic accident in Larne last night. My thoughts are with the man’s family, friends and community”.
Tributes were also paid by numerous loyalist organisations, including the Drumaheagles Orange lodge and the Constable Anderson Memorial Flute Band. The band said Mr Steele’s daughter Macy-Lee had recently joined it.
“The officer and members of Constable Anderson Memorial Band are deeply saddened to learn of the tragic passing of John Steele after an accident at a local Larne bonfire.
“The band also have close ties to the Steele family and we are especially thinking of our members Tia and Tamera Steele”.
An online fundraiser has been launched in a bid to raise £500 for the Steele family. On the JustGiving page it said a “dark cloud is over our wee town” and “no one is ever prepared for that news to come to your door”.
The person behind the fundraiser wrote: “So I’ve set this up in the hope that people will donate no matter how big or small to take off a bit of financial pressure for the family as they begin to make arrangements for John’s funeral.
“The whole town is shook at this devastating news and our hearts go out to Artie, Jackie, Kitty, his two daughters Caitlin and Macy-Lee, Catrina and the whole family circle. You will be sorely missed John. YNWA XX.”
Rev Ben Preston told worshippers at Sunday morning service in Craigy Hill Presbyterian Church about the tragedy.
“Our deepest condolences are with the family and indeed with the whole community. We will be here for you, we will be all too pleased to read God’s word, to pray and to offer a cup of tea.
“We will plan for something maybe here in the afternoon, to offer ministry at the bonfire. I understand from council they are going to be taking the bonfire down which is wholly appropriate. We are numb and we are in shock at such an accident and such a tragedy. Continue to hold the family, the community and each other here in your prayers.”