Belfast Telegraph

'I wish it never happened' - Driver she says sorry for crash that killed Debbie Whyte and Nathan Gault

By Donna Deeney

The driver of a car that collided with three teenage school children - fatally injuring two of them - in Co Fermanagh wept in court as she recollected the moment of impact.

Yvonne Seaman apologised to the families of Debbie Whyte (14) and Nathan Gault (15) at the end of her evidence on the opening day of an inquest into their deaths, saying she was sorry the crash had ever happened.

Devenish College pupils Debbie and Nathan were struck by a Renault Megane being driven by Ms Seaman as they walked home along the Croaghrim Road at Florencecourt on November 27, 2008.

This second inquest was ordered by the Attorney General after the two families raised a number of concerns.

Ms Seaman broke down in tears after counsel for the Coroner Suzanne Anderson, sitting in Omagh Court, asked her about the moments before the crash.

Ms Seaman said: "It was so fast, a matter of seconds. I just hit something.

"I didn't even know at that stage what is was."

The court heard that Debbie Whyte, Nathan Gault and another friend, Wayne Manley, got off a school bus around 6pm and were walking three abreast along part of the Croaghrim Road which was unlit when they were struck by the car.

Nathan died at the scene. His remains were discovered in a garden belonging to his uncle some time after the collision.

Debbie was rushed to hospital where she died the following day.

Wayne was uninjured.

Ms Seaman made an emotional apology to the families, saying: "I would like the families to know how sorry I am this ever happened.

"I wish it never happened."

In her evidence, Ms Seaman said she couldn't remember much of the events of that day, including when she arrived at her sister's house, or when she left to go to her own house, which was when the collision took place.

Nor was she certain about the exact time she made phone calls to another sister, but she insisted she had stopped at a lay-by outside a shop to make the calls.

Wayne Manley also said there were things about that fateful evening that he could not recall, explaining: "I spent a long time trying not to remember." He told the court there were five children who got off the bus at the same time.

The other two were Debbie's sister and brother, and that they went straight home but Debbie continued walking down the road with him and Nathan.

Mr Manley said he was on the inside of the road nearest the grass verge and that it was "very dark".

He recalled a car passing them on the opposite side of the road moments before the crash happened, but said he was "unaware" of Ms Seaman's car approaching.

He said: "All I remember is my arm being clipped by the wing mirror.

"I turned to say to Nathan, 'Did you see that?'"

Mr Manley then recalled "seeing Debbie rolling down the grass verge" before he ran over towards his friend.

Mr Manley dialled 999 but he "couldn't get the words out". A neighbour who arrived on the scene took the phone from him and spoke to the Ambulance Service.

Mr Manley said he didn't see Nathan and in his own state of shock assumed he had run to his aunt and uncle's house nearby. It was some time later when he was sitting in the car of his father, who had also arrived at the scene, that Mr Manley realised Nathan was missing.

Much of the evidence on day one of this inquest focused on mobile phone activity.

The court heard from Mr Manley that all three friends were sending texts while they had been on the school bus but at the time of the crash, only Debbie could have had her phone in her hand.

The call from Mr Manley's phone to the Ambulance Service was logged at 6.12pm which he said was moments after the crash.

Ms Seaman was quizzed about calls she made just before and after the crash, the details of which were recovered after police had seized her device.

Data extracted showed Ms Seaman made two calls to her sister Margaret Burleigh at 5.32pm and 5.33pm which helped the court establish her time of arrival at her sister's house.

Ms Seaman was reminded in court about an interview she gave to police two months after the crash.

In it, she said she made two calls to another sister, Florence Graydon, after she left Ms Burleigh's house.

When asked if it was "possible you were using your phone as you drove", and if she had deleted these calls from her phone, Ms Seaman replied "no" in both incidences.

Debbie Whyte's mother Ann Whyte was also among those who gave evidence yesterday.

She recalled arriving at the scene and rushing straight over to her daughter where a number of neighbours were administering first aid.

She told the court she had never been asked to give a statement about what she had witnessed .

Nor had she been told whether or not police had taken evidence from her daughter's mobile phone before it was returned to her.

The inquest continues.

Belfast Telegraph

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