Belfast Telegraph

Catalogue of mistakes led to Antrim boy's road death, rules coroner

By Allan Preston

An inquest into the death of a young Co Antrim boy has ruled that the driver of a vehicle which collided with him was not travelling at a suitable speed.

Adam Gilmour was eight-years-old when he was knocked down while walking with his mother Sarah Hanna and five siblings to a school bus stop on November 11, 2014.

Stephen Austin (22) had been driving a red Peugeot that morning when he came over the crest of a hill on the Loughill Road and veered into the family.

In Ballymena yesterday, coroner Paddy McGurgan also ruled that the family had been walking on the wrong side of the road and that the education authority had wrongly concluded the road was safe for the family to walk on.

"There is no doubt that this has been a very traumatic time for the Gilmore and Austin families," he told the court.

The young boy was taken to Antrim Area Hospital after the accident, but died from a fractured vertebrae.

The coroner ruled that the family had been walking in single file that morning, and Adam had been at the back of the group.

Ms Hanna (below) said they had been walking on the left hand side of the road as it gave access to a grass verge. Mr McGurgan said this was the wrong decision.

Forensic evidence showed Mr Austin had been travelling at 49-55mph when he started to brake, hitting the family at a speed of 28-31mph.

He claimed he had attempted to turn to the right but the car failed to respond, he then turned left into the ditch but the car didn't stop, before colliding with the family.

Mr McGurgan found this was not the case, that instead he had braked suddenly, causing his wheels to lock and the natural shape of the road caused the car to veer left and into the collision.

The coroner agreed with forensic evidence that Mr Austin would have needed to brake at 46mph or less to avoid the collision.

"The driver was not in excess of the national speed limit, but I find he was not driving at a suitable speed to anticipate potential hazards over the crest of the hill and that he failed to appreciate the effect of braking hard without ABS brakes," he said.

The investigating officer Constable Grimes had originally recommended that Mr Austin be prosecuted for causing death by dangerous driving, but the Public Prosecution service decided against taking the case in 2017.

As a disqualified driver, Ms Hanna had no transport of her own and was left to walk nearly 500 metres along the narrow country road with six children to the bus stop each morning.

Weeks before the accident, she complained to education authorities at County Hall that the road was not safe and asked for her children to be picked up at home. The TUV MLA Jim Allister wrote a letter in support, saying that with the onset of winter this was "not a good situation".

The education authority at the time, the NEELB, responded by conducting a walking route assessment on October 29 and found it to be safe.

The coroner ruled: "I find that this was not the case and that stretch of road was unsafe."

An education authority meeting was taking place on the morning of the crash to consider the case, but was cut short by the news of Adam's death.

The Gilmour family had also claimed County Hall had given permission to the bus driver Harold Galloway to pick the children up at home.

They added that Mr Galloway had refused, as it would add an extra five to 10 minutes to his route. Mr Galloway told the court yesterday that he was given no such permission to alter his route and that it was impractical to turn the large 33-seat vehicle at their house.

He added that his schedule was already very tight for time.

Mr McGurgan said the existing form for requesting transport assistance was insufficient, leaving no room to explain personal circumstances. He added that he would be writing to the education authority to suggest the changes, along with his findings.

Belfast Telegraph

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