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Fatal crash Great-grandfather killed in collision with woman who had consumed alcohol and drugs

The unemployed mother of two, who had 36 previous convictions, did not have a valid driving licence at the time of the fatal collision

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A garda at the scene of the fatal car crash on the Drumcondra Road

A garda at the scene of the fatal car crash on the Drumcondra Road

A garda at the scene of the fatal car crash on the Drumcondra Road

A great-grandfather on his way to a hospital appointment in Dublin was killed in a head-on collision with a young mother who had consumed a large quantity of alcohol and drugs and had no driving licence, an inquest has heard.

A sitting of Dublin District Coroner’s Court on Thursday heard that both John “Pops” Nulty (72) of Pinewood Green Road, Balbriggan, Co Dublin and Rachel Coughlan (34) of Creaston Avenue, Finglas were both killed instantly in the crash which occurred on Drumcondra Road Lower in Dublin at around 6am on March 22, 2019.

The inquest was told that Ms Coughlan had an alcohol level over four times the legal drink driving limit, while she had also been using cocaine and some other drugs.

The unemployed mother of two, who had 36 previous convictions, did not have a valid driving licence at the time of the fatal collision.

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John Nulty

John Nulty

John Nulty

 

Investigating garda, Sergeant Fergal Finnegan, said a three-quarters empty naggin of Captain Morgan’s rum was found in Ms Coughlan’s vehicle, although he could not say when it was consumed.

The inquest heard evidence that she was “under some mental distress” in the hours before the crash due to “domestic issues.”

A taxi driver, Gerry Healy, told the inquest that he was involved in a separate collision with Ms Coughlan just minutes before the fatal collision with Mr Nulty.

Mr Healy said he was stopped at traffic lights on Clonliffe Road waiting to turn right onto Drumcondra Road Lower when he noticed in his rear-view mirror a car coming towards him at high speed and then striking his vehicle.

When he got out to speak to the other driver, he told her that he thought she was drunk as he could not understand what she was saying.

Mr Healy said Ms Coughlan denied being drunk but stated repeatedly about her partner being “back there with another bird.”

She then took off in her vehicle while Mr Healy was trying to contact gardaí.

The taxi driver said she bullied two cars in the left lane out of her way with her horn before mounting the footpath and turning right onto Drumcondra Road Lower before appearing to cross towards oncoming traffic.

Mr Healy, who came across the scene of the fatal crash a short time later, said he got the impression she was suicidal.

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Several other eyewitnesses described seeing Ms Coughlan’s car driving at high speed erratically along Drumcondra Road Lower.

In a written statement Mr Nulty’s widow, Frances, said her husband, whom she described as a careful driver who never had an accident, was on his way to an appointment in the Mater Hospital.

Ms Nulty said her late husband, a retired caretaker and father of seven, was a real family man who enjoyed “football, a pint and pitch and putt.”

The court heard evidence that Ms Coughlan had left her home at around 8pm the previous evening and had arrived at the house of a relative on Oriel Street in the north inner city at around 2.30am the following morning.

Sgt Finnegan said her movements between those times were unknown.

He said CCTV footage showed Ms Coughlan leaving her relative’s house at approximately 5.45am when she was “swaying from side to side” and appeared to try and flag down a van thinking it was a taxi.

A relative said Ms Coughlan had received a call informing her of another incident at her home in Finglas and she decided to go home at that point.

Sgt Finnegan said one family member had tried to get Ms Coughlan to stay the night but the relative had eventually gone to bed because they were “sick of Rachel’s ranting and not following instructions.”

He said a relative had also told gardaí that Ms Coughlan had only drank water in the house.

However, he said CCTV showed it had taken her one minute and 11 seconds to walk between two points on leaving the house when she had only taken 29 seconds to cover the same distance on her arrival.

Sgt Finnegan said about an hour earlier Ms Coughlan appeared to leave the house to go to her car but went back inside after seeing a Garda patrol car.

He said Ms Coughlan’s vehicle was travelling at such speed after leaving Oriel Street that CCTV footage showed it was “almost airborne” as it passed over a hump-backed bridge over the Royal Canal.

Under questioning by the coroner, Dr Crona Gallagher, the witness said he did not believe the fatal collision was a deliberate act on Ms Coughlan’s part.

Post-mortems on the bodies of the two victims showed they had both died as a result of damage to their main artery as a result of the collision which would have resulted in immediate death.

Dr Gallagher said toxicology tests showed Ms Coughlan had an alcohol level of 225mg per 100ml of blood. The legal limit is 50mg.

The coroner said the results showed evidence of cocaine use as well as small traces of benzodiazepines.

Garda Alan Quinn, a vehicle inspector, said Ms Coughlan was not wearing a seatbelt at the time of the collision, while the airbags in her Volkswagen Passat also failed to deploy on impact.

Garda Quinn said Mr Nulty had been wearing a seatbelt and his airbags had been activated normally.

He said there was no evidence of any mechanical defects with either vehicle.

Garda Gerard Dowd, a forensic collision investigator, said Ms Coughlan’s vehicle had been travelling at a minimum of 89 km/h at the point of impact, when her vehicle crossed over into the citybound lane of traffic at the junction of Drumcondra Road Lower and Hollybank Road. 

He estimated that Mr Nulty had been driving at 43 km/h on a road which had a 50km/h speed limit.

He said there was no evidence of either driver taking evasive action.

Dr Gallagher returned a verdict of misadventure in relation to both deaths and noted that the speed driven by Ms Coughlan and the substances consumed by her were contributory factors.

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