A student with a bright future as a politician had already died after falling to the ground from his bicycle before being struck shortly afterwards by a Luas tram near Dublin city centre, an inquest has heard.
Cormac Ó Braonáin, 19, a second-year medical science and international relations student at UCD and president of Labor Youth, was killed after he got off his bike while cycling along the Luas track in Peter’s Place in the early hours of December 15, 2019.
An inquest into his death at Dublin District Coroner’s Court heard on Thursday that he was struck by a late night southbound tram on the Luas Green line at the start of a ramp approaching the Charlemont stop in 3:05 a.m.
However, state pathologist Heidi Okkers said autopsy results showed he was already dead before impact with the Luas tram.
Dr Okkers said the victim was considerably intoxicated – with a blood alcohol level almost five times the legal driving limit – which would have limited his ability to leave the Luas track after falling from his bike.
The pathologist said autopsy results showed that Mr. Ó Braonáin was not alive when he suffered broken ribs after being hit by the Luas.
She said he died of inability to breathe following neck compression.
Cross-examined by Conor Halpin SC, attorney for the Ó Braonáin family, Dr. Okker withdrew his finding that the level of intoxication of the deceased was a contributing factor.
Mr. Halpin said it was possible that Mr. Ó Braonáin could have lost consciousness after the fall, regardless of the level of alcohol in his body.
Mr Ó Braonáin’s mother, Eva Walsh, testified that she met her son at the Iveagh Hotel in Harcourt Street at 8.45pm the previous evening, when he had consumed two pints of lager.
“I wouldn’t have considered him drunk at all,” she observed.
Ms Walsh said he was unable to join her and her father, Lúghaidh, at a music concert in Rathmines because he had promised to go to a 21st birthday party at the Conradh club na Gaeilge of rue Harcourt.
Ms Walsh described her son as “an amazing young man who was very community oriented”. She said he worked very hard in everything he did and was heavily involved in youth organizations and campaigning for human rights, especially in his new role as chairman of Labor Youth.
The day before he died, she said he took part in a protest against the constitutional amendment which removed the automatic right of citizenship to any child born in Ireland after January 1, 2005.
“It was something very close to his heart,” she said.
Ms Walsh added: ‘He was on his way to a political life.
She said the way Ireland presented itself to the world was “very important to him”.
Asked by coroner Clare Keane if her son was a regular cyclist, Ms Walsh smiled as she recalled he regularly used his bike to get around as he thought public transport was ‘too expensive’.
She said he had always been a strong advocate for cyclists to wear helmets and lamps and noted he had them on the night he died.
Ms Walsh said she was unsure if her son regularly used the Luas track to cycle home, but noted it was the most direct way to get to their home in St Gall Gardens South in Windy Arbour.
“I guess he thought he was going home 15 minutes early,” she added.
Conradh na Gaeilge club manager Dylan Bryans said he spoke to Mr Ó Braonáin several times during the night.
Mr Bryans said he thought Mr Ó Braonáin was drunk ‘but not the drunkenness of Copper Face Jack’ and that he was not as drunk as people on Harcourt Street at this time of night .
However, Mr Bryans said he informed Mr Ó Braonáin when he left the club shortly before 3 a.m. that he was not in good condition to cycle home.
“It wasn’t so much a stern warning as a passing comment,” he recalls.
The inquest heard CCTV footage from the area captured Mr Ó Braonáin cycling along Luas Tracks on Harcourt Street and Adelaide Road before heading towards Peter’s Place.
A friend of the deceased, Sinead Ryan, who was waiting at the Luas stop in Harcourt, said she saw a cyclist pass on the tracks before realizing it was Cormac.
Ms Ryan said her friend rode the bike normally and ‘didn’t sway or swerve’.
In a statement read at the inquest, Luas driver Amos Mkwenje, who did not appear to give evidence as expected, said he saw what he believed to be a garbage bag on the track as he drove off. was approaching the ramp leading to the Charlemont stop.
Mr Mkwenje said he saw a bicycle and a white helmet on the track at the same time after turning on the tram’s full beam to see more clearly.
The driver said he pressed the emergency brake after realizing there was a person lying face down on the runway.
Eoin Kennedy, safety manager at Transdev, the Luas operator, told the inquest that the incident happened on a separate section of track reserved for the use of Luas trams.
Mr Kennedy said there were several signs in Peter’s Place warning members of the public that there was no trespassing on the line, while he said lighting in the area was an issue between Transport Infrastructure Ireland and Dublin City Council.
In response to Mr. Halpin’s questions, he said he was unaware that Luas drivers had reported any issues with cyclists using that section of track.
The inquest heard that Mr. Ó Braonáin’s legs had been caught by the “bodycatcher” under the tram.
An advanced paramedic who arrived on the scene, Ray Martin, said he could not detect any impulses from the body and concluded the victim had sustained injuries “inconsistent with life”.
Garda Detective Joseph Heaphy said the deceased’s neck did not have a natural shape and his head was stuck in the tramline.
He noticed that the lights of the bicycle, which was resting on the cyclist, were still flashing.
A forensic collision investigator, Garda Patrick McEvoy, said tests showed there was no problem with the tram’s braking system. The investigation revealed that the tram was traveling at 22 km/h on a section of the Luas where the limit was 20 km/h but was already 16 km/h when the emergency brake was applied.
The lead investigator into Mr Ó Braonáin’s death, Detective Inspector Catriona Joyce, said there were no eyewitnesses to the actual crash despite there being no CCTV cameras on site.
Detective Inspector Joyce said it was the first night of the late night Luas service for the Christmas period and it was the last service of the night.
She noted that there was an 8cm drop and rise on the surface of the tram where it became a separate section at Peter’s Place.
A jury of four men and two women returned a verdict of accidental death and recommended that Transdev conduct a risk assessment at the scene of the fatal incident, including lighting and signage in the area.
The coroner said she would notify the appropriate authorities of the jury’s recommendations.
Dr Keane also offered condolences to the Ó Braonáin family for what she called a “devastating loss”.
“Cormac had a bright future snatched away. We have heard a lot of information about his plans. He was a remarkable, versatile and engaging young man coming home after a night out,” she said.