Belfast Telegraph

Family tell of their agony as man charged over car death at funeral

The scene of the crash
The scene of the crash
Herky Conlon lays a tribute to his brother Seamus
A man is detained
Seamus Conlon
Lauren Harte

By Lauren Harte

The family of Seamus Conlon, who died after being hit by a suspected stolen car after attending a funeral in west Belfast on Saturday, have said they are devastated by his death.

The crash happened at around midday outside Belfast City Cemetery on the Whiterock Road.

A 32-year-old man has been charged with a number of offences including causing death by dangerous driving, two counts of causing grievous bodily injury by dangerous driving, driving whilst unfit due to drink or drugs and aggravated vehicle taking causing injury or death.

He is due to appear at Belfast Magistrates Court today.

Mr Conlon was among the mourners attending the funeral of his neighbour Raymond 'Mickey' Walker when he was struck by the Vauxhall Vectra before it smashed into a blue van. He was taken to the Royal Victoria Hospital where he later died of his injuries.

Two other men were injured in the horrific incident and taken to hospital.

Mr Conlon, a grandfather from Ballymurphy, was known as a 'horsey man' who drove a pony and trap.

The death of the popular figure has shocked and horrified the local community.

Yesterday afternoon Mr Conlon's brothers Paul and Herky Conlon and his nephew Thomas visited the scene and left flowers.

Floral tributes had also been left by Mr Conlon's widow Kay, son Seamus, daughter Geraldine, grandchildren and friends.

Speaking yesterday, Herky Conlon said the crash had occurred on the anniversary of their mother's death.

He said he arrived at the scene on Saturday afternoon just as his brother was being put in an ambulance after receiving a phone call from his son.

"He told me there had been a crash so I thought Seamus had maybe taken a heart attack behind the wheel.

"He had just gone over to talk to his friend in the blue van and then the car crashed into him.

"When I arrived he was in the ambulance and one of the men told me he wouldn't make it."

Mr Conlon said his family have been left devastated and shocked by the tragedy.

"Seamus was one of the quietest and best men you could ever meet," he said. "He was never in trouble in his life."

"We are all in a terrible way," he added.

Posting on social media yesterday, Mr Conlon's niece Gael thanked people for their messages of sympathy and said her uncle's death "has left our whole community in pain".

She wrote: "Rest in peace Uncle Seamus. Thank you for all my childhood memories with your horses and stables.

"Please look over us all, especially your wife Kay, son Seamus, daughter Geraldine, grandkids, brothers and sister. We are all devastated."

Mr Conlon's lifelong friend Michael Holden described 'Seamy' as "a quiet man and gentleman" who was loved by everyone. "It was all local people attending a local man's funeral - for all that to happen was shocking."

"Everyone is in shock. It's just unbelievable, you don't expect that at a funeral," he added.

It is understood there were earlier reports of a vehicle being driven erratically in west Belfast on Saturday morning.

Sinn Fein councillor Michael Donnelly was at the scene shortly after the incident, which he described as "carnage".

"I got a call at around 12pm to say that there had been a terrible traffic incident," he said.

"I'm from the community and went to the scene straight away and it was pure carnage and panic. There was a lot of people angry and upset. The PSNI, Fire Service and ambulance were all there and working frantically on the injured people.

"This is a very serious incident. Three people from our community and from well-respected families have been caught up in this.

"There is real sadness and anger in our community.

"It's a double tragedy - people were paying their respects to another well-known member of the community who had died and as they were leaving that funeral to go home they were caught up in this carnage."

Alliance west Belfast representative Donnamarie Higgins said: "The local community is simply in shock. This was a day when west Belfast was showing its best side off to the world due to Feile (an Phobail) and instead we are now mourning following this tragedy."

A witness, who did not want to be named, said the crash sounded like a bomb exploding.

"I was walking out of the graveyard when I heard a massive bang and saw all the smoke in the air and then saw a car had crashed into the van," he added.

"The funeral had just ended when it happened and we were walking up to the bar. It was really busy at the time.

"The police got there about 30 seconds later and the medics arrived shortly after that and started working on the man who was badly injured.

"The man who was injured was part of the funeral and he had been talking to someone who was in the van when he was hit."

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