The father of a young student who suffered fatal injuries while crossing a road near his home in Kildare last year has said he still wonders if his son might have survived if an ambulance had arrived earlier to the scene of the accident.
Alex Helps (17), a fifth year student of Celbridge Community School, sustained severe head injuries when he was struck by a vehicle on Aghards Road, Celbridge, Co Kildare on June 29, 2022.
An inquest at Dublin District Coroner’s Court today heard evidence that it took over 45 minutes after emergency services were alerted to the collision before an ambulance arrived on the scene.
Alex was brought to Connolly Hospital Blanchardstown (CHB) but died the following day after his family agreed to withdraw life support.
The student’s father, Graham Helps, told the inquest that he still thought about whether the outcome for his son might have been different “if the ambulance had been able to get assistance to him sooner”.
Mr Helps said his son would have been on his way into work for a summer job he had as a barman at the National Convention Centre in Dublin.
He recalled how he and his wife, Jo, and other son, Adam, were informed by doctors at CHB that Alex’s brain injury was “significant and unsurvivable”.
Mr Helps told the coroner Cróna Gallagher that his family wanted to donate his son’s organs to help others but it was not possible because of the damage caused by his injuries.
He described his son as a happy young man who enjoyed school, work and volunteering with the St John’s Ambulance.
He said Alex was very positive about life and had a girlfriend for the previous six months.
Mr Helps also raised questions about damage to his son’s left shoe.
However, a garda forensic collision investigator, John Creegan, said he thought the damage was more consistent with being scraped off the road surface than being driven over by a tyre.
The inquest also heard that no evidence of an injury to the deceased’s foot was recorded in a postmortem report.
Garda Creegan said it was possible that Alex’s view of the approaching vehicle may have been blocked “for a split second” by a tree.
The investigator said the damage to the vehicle showed that the deceased had been struck by the side of the vehicle including its wing mirror.
He believed the head injury was caused by Alex coming in contact with the vehicle’s A-pillar.
No mechanical or electrical faults were found with the vehicle which Garda Creegan estimated was travelling at 49km/h from a skid mark on the road.
The speed limit at the location was 50 km/h.
The driver of the vehicle, Leeanne Tyrrell, said she had been driving with her father at the time at a speed which she believed was around 25km/h as the road was busy with traffic.
Ms Tyrrell said she noted a pedestrian standing at the edge of the road to her left but could not see his face as he was looking to his left.
The dental nurse said there was nothing to suggest he was about to cross the road and she stopped immediately after she heard a bang on the side of her Honda Accord.
The inquest heard she told other people who arrived on the scene: “He never looked to his right.”
Ms Tyrrell said she tried calling an ambulance three times but kept getting put back to an operator before another bystander took over trying to alert the emergency services.
In reply to questions from counsel for the Helps family, Patrick Jackson BL, Ms Tyrell said she did not feel as if she had driven over anything.
Her father, Denis Tyrrell, said he had not seen the pedestrian as he was opening a letter containing a new insurance disc to put on the windscreen.
Mr Tyrrell described how he tried to assist the victim who had blood coming from his nose and mouth and was making choking sounds.
The inquest also heard evidence from a number of witnesses including two nurses who rushed to provide the victim with first-aid assistance before an ambulance arrived.
Alex’s mother, Jo, became visibly distressed at one stage and had to leave the courtroom.
Witnesses described how Alex was unconscious after being struck by the vehicle and appeared to have a serious wound at the back of his head.
The DPP had directed that no criminal prosecution should arise from the fatal collision.
The inquest heard evidence that Alex might have been wearing earphones and listening to music on his phone as he was crossing the road.
However, Mr Helps said his son’s habit was to only wear one earphone so he could hear other noise around him.
Dr Gallagher said it was not possible to make any definite finding on the matter.
Returning a verdict of accidental death, Dr Gallagher said Alex was extremely unlucky in how events unfolded and with the severity of the injuries he sustained.
The coroner said it was “not unnoticed” the time it had taken an ambulance to arrive on the scene.
Dr Gallagher said common sense would inform people that the earlier access to treatment the greater potential for a better outcome, although she could not say if it might have been different in Alex’s case.
She promised the victim’s family that she would write to the relevant authorities to bring the circumstances of the student’s death to their attention.
Dr Gallagher also commended the Helps family for their offer of donating Alex’s organs which she acknowledged was made “at the worst time of your lives”.
Get ahead of the day with the morning headlines at 7.30am and Fionnán Sheahan’s exclusive take on the day’s news every afternoon, with our free daily newsletter.News Related