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Coroner's Court ‘Bad move’ by truck driver led to crash which caused death of Estlin Wall (3), inquest hears

Estlin was killed and her father suffered a brain injury.

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Estlin Wall's parents Amy and Vincent hold a photograph of their daughter outside the Coroners Court in Dublin during the inquest into her tragic death. Photo: Steve Humphreys

Estlin Wall's parents Amy and Vincent hold a photograph of their daughter outside the Coroners Court in Dublin during the inquest into her tragic death. Photo: Steve Humphreys

Estlin Wall's parents Amy and Vincent hold a photograph of their daughter outside the Coroners Court in Dublin during the inquest into her tragic death. Photo: Steve Humphreys

An inquest into the death of three-year-old Estlin Wall has heard that the truck driver who caused the collision was driving erratically and had suddenly pulled out from behind a bus just before the crash.

Estlin, from Ennistymon, Co Clare, was just nine days short of her fourth birthday when she was killed in a crash as her father was driving her to crèche.

The truck pulled out from behind a bus travelling in the opposite direction to the car being driven by Estlin’s father Vincent, prompting a chain of events that would lead to a collision with another car at Inagh, in Co Clare on March 15 2017.

The truck was described as dangerously defective, and witnesses said they thought the driver’s manoeuvre was “crazy” and “a bad move”.

Estlin was killed and her father suffered a brain injury. He cannot remember the crash and missed his daughter’s funeral because of his injuries.

Today he said that the information from the inquest helped him fill in the pieces he cannot recall.

“To hear clear evidence and descriptions of what happened that morning is very, very important to me. That’s what we were hoping we would hear at the trial, and the trial didn’t happen at the last minute (because the driver pleaded guilty).

“It was all still left up to my imagination. There was no clear picture, and this is how it formed some sort of clarity. It’s valuable,” he said. “I imagine weighing up both options I would rather know. So having the opportunity to hear that evidence is much better than being left in limbo with my own imagination,” he added.

The driver of the truck, Senan O’Flaherty (64) from Cooraclare in Co Clare, was initially fined €1,500 and banned from driving for four years after pleading guilty to charges of careless driving causing death and careless driving causing serious bodily harm.

But the Court of Appeal later ruled that the sentence originally handed down to the truck driver was too lenient and imposed a 16-month sentence, suspended for two years. It found that the original judgment – which placed O’Flaherty’s culpability at the lower end of the scale – had been wrong.

At today’s coroner’s court hearing, the driver of the bus, Martin Hurley, gave evidence that he was aware of a truck pulling out from behind him to try and overtake him or to get a view to overtake, and pulling back in again. “I thought it was crazy,” he said.

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Amy and Vincent Wall and daughter Estlin, who lost her life in the tragic crash

Amy and Vincent Wall and daughter Estlin, who lost her life in the tragic crash

Amy and Vincent Wall and daughter Estlin, who lost her life in the tragic crash

Mr Hurley said he later noticed the truck was not behind him anymore, but he was unaware there had been a crash until he received a phone call while on a lunch break telling him that gardai wanted to talk to him about a collision on the road he had been driving on.

Witnesses who were driving behind the truck gave evidence that they saw the truck pull out from behind the bus as if to overtake it, but pulling back in immediately and having difficulty controlling the vehicle.

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Geraldine Kilbane said when she saw the truck pull out to overtake she thought “what’s he doing?” because she could see Mr Wall’s car coming the other way.

Mr Wall’s car passed her and was out of control having reacted to seeing the truck in its path, but she did not see the crash.

Ms Kilbane said she decided to report the truck driver to the Gardai in Ennistymon where she worked, but the Sergeant there had received reports of a collision when she arrived.

Morgan Lahiffe was driving behind Ms Kilbane in his Kia car.

His deposition to the Coroner’s Court said to him it looked like the truck driver made a last-minute decision to overtake the bus and he thought it was a ‘bad move’.

He then saw Mr Wall’s car coming towards him and it was out of control because it was reacting to the truck, and then it collided with his car.

Vehicle inspector Garda Brendan Condon said an examination of the truck being driven by Mr O’Flaherty found it was dangerously defective.

He also said that the road where the crash happened was not one where a person should overtake in a truck in his opinion.

Mr O’Flaherty’s evidence, given by deposition, was that he thought the bus in front of him was “driving funny” had a mechanical problem because it’s speed was varying, and that he had looked to overtake it if it was safe but he was not in a hurry.

He said he was not aware of a collision behind him until Gardai stopped him.

The medical evidence heard was that Estlin suffered blunt force trauma in the impact and had a fractured skull and went into cardiac arrest, and that her injuries were not compatible with life.

She was transferred to Temple Street Children’s Hospital by air ambulance but her injuries were not survivable.

The coroner’s court heard the family donated Estlin’s organs and that the transplants to other people had been successful.

The cause of death was traumatic brain and neck injury and coroner Dr Crona Gallagher gave a verdict of careless driving causing death in accordance with the findings of the criminal court judge.

After the inquest, Estlin’s mother Amy said they were thankful for how the coroner allowed the proceedings to be today.

"We got to hear all of the information that we wanted to hear two years ago during the trial but didn’t get to when he pled guilty last minute to a lesser charge, so we’re definitely very thankful to finally have all that information,” said Amy Dutil-Wall.

“We feel relieved to finally have it and also a renewed sense of injustice from the criminal proceedings. We definitely think there should have been much harsher consequences than what he actually got but we have to move forward from all that now,” she added.

Amy showed a tattoo she got on her left forearm with a line from a E.E. Cummings poem after Estlin’s death.

“We named her Estlin after my favourite poet and this is a line from one of his poems, and it has a lot of extra meaning now. It reads ‘I carry your heart, I carry it in my heart’, and it’s on her gravestone now too.”

“We have two other very little children who we are taking care of, a baby who takes up a lot of your time, but she (Estlin) is part of every day.

“We talk about her all the time and they both know they had a big sister. She will always be a part of our lives.”

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