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Mark Bain - Byline Image

Echoes of 2014 tragedy at exact same spot as rural community mourns again

Mark Bain


PSNI vehicle blocks the road to traffic near scene of fatal crash in Co Antrim

PSNI vehicle blocks the road to traffic near scene of fatal crash in Co Antrim

PSNI vehicle blocks the road to traffic near scene of fatal crash in Co Antrim

In August 2014 two young soldiers were killed when the car they were travelling in collided with a tractor on the outskirts of Portglenone.

An off-duty fishing trip turned to tragedy for Lance Corporal David Gwilt from Bedford and Rifleman Dale Harris from Barnsley, both aged just 24.

Six years later residents tell of a series of near misses at the rural junctions dotted throughout the network of country roads that criss-cross between Portglenone and the villages of Ahoghill, Cullybackey and Rasharkin.

And now three more lives have been lost following another horror crash.

The victims - named locally as husband and wife Paul and Verena Creelman, and Phil Hegarty - died at almost exactly the same spot as the soldiers.

It brought back a sad memory and has given the people who live in the quiet country area another memory they did not wish to have.

A silver Volkswagen Passat and a black Audi were involved in the collision on Lisnahunshin Road at around 10.40am yesterday.

Two hours later, along the rural roads leading to the scene, there is stillness in the air. Behind police roadblocks emergency services remain at the scene.

It's not a heavily populated area, save for a few farmhouses. Rolling fields disappear into the distance, but the roads twist and turn, uphill and down. It's not a location for a quiet, relaxing country drive. Out of the blue you come upon a junction, a tight turn in the road.

It's an area of countryside that would instantly appeal to American tourists seeking out a quaint taste of life here, a mix of old roadside whitewashed farmhouses, sprawling farmyards in the hills beyond, picture perfect tree-lined corners.

You never know what you'll find around the next bend - and that is the problem.

Nothing seems amiss until you happen upon a police car blocking the road.

And by the number of cars turning to find another route between the villages, you can quickly tell that more use this network than first meet the eye.

Time has caught up with the quiet country lifestyle. "It's an area I know so well," said SDLP councillor in neighbouring Mid Ulster Martin Kearney, who lives in Portglenone and travelled along this same road for over 30 years on his way to work in a Ballymena school.

"It's become notorious over the years.

"It's a big shock for something like this to have happened again on our doorstep."

He mentions the soldiers who lost their lives in the same spot. A roadside plaque remembers them. The community remembers them.

While residents are few and far between, one or two are out walking. They know a high visibility jacket is the best way to remain safe.

"It's been a real blackspot," said one.

"So many accidents there. Something really needs to be done about it. I had my own scary experience when a car drove straight over the cross and didn't stop."

Another commented: "I hold my breath every time I go past it."

Last night all roads leading to the scene of the accident remained closed, and while local TUV councillor Timothy Gaston said more will need to be done to make the road safer in the future, the time for addressing that isn't right now.

"I have been working to make improvements over the past couple of years," he said.

"The Department for Infrastructure have invested in new signage, but what really needs to happen there is the creation of a staggered junction.

"Right now, though, all our thoughts are with the families of those who have lost their lives.

"There's a real sense of shock around the area.

"We've had a tragedy here in the past and for it to happen again is a terrible situation."

For his party colleague, councillor Stewart McDonald, accidents along the country roads of his district are also something very close to home.

In February he warned that "a tragedy is only a matter of time" after a video of a non-fatal crash along the nearby Townhill Road appeared online.

"This is more tragic news," he said. "It's a very, very dangerous stretch of road. There's been fatalities here in the past."

SDLP councillor Eugene Reid said the collision was a reminder of the perils posed by driving in rural areas.

"It's tragic news and the thoughts and prayers of everyone in the community are with the families involved," he said. "This just underlines the dangers of driving on country roads.

"You can come on junctions so very quickly, and while there is an onus on drivers to always take care along country roads like this, there has to be an onus on the authorities as well to make sure road signage hasn't become overgrown, and the roads are made as safe as possible for everyone.

"These roads were not made for the amount of traffic that travels on them these days and we all have to be aware of that."

Belfast Telegraph