herald

Tuesday 27 September 2016

Waitress drove into sea knowing her passenger couldn't swim, trial told

Csaba Orsas
Csaba Orsas
Marta Herda arriving at court

A 29-year-old woman has gone on trial charged with murdering her colleague in Wicklow by driving into a deep harbour, where he drowned.

The prosecutor told the jury that Marta Herda could swim and knew that the deceased could not when she drove her car through the crash barriers at South Quay, Arklow.

The Polish waitress, with an address at Pairc Na Saile, Emoclew Road, Arklow, has pleaded not guilty to murdering 31-year-old Csaba Orsas on March 26, 2013.

Brendan Grehan, prosecuting, opened the case to the Central Criminal Court yesterday. He said the State's case was that the deceased, a Hungarian, was the front-seat passenger in a car deliberately driven into the sea shortly before 6am that Tuesday. It was the prosecution case that Marta Herda was the driver. He explained that the incident happened at the harbour wall in Arklow, where the Avoca river flowed into the sea.

Runway

Mr Grehan said that the road leading to the water was "almost like a runway in terms of its dimensions".

He explained that there was a barrier at the end of this to prevent cars driving into the sea. There was an electrical box in the centre and this was also protected by a barrier.

"The evidence will show the car drove through both barriers into the sea," he said.

The jury was told that Ms Herda was taken to hospital and her car recovered from the water, while Mr Orsas's body was found on a beach 3km away at lunchtime. A post-mortem exam found he died due to drowning.

"The objective evidence suggests that Marta Herda, in a deliberate act, drove through those barriers," said Mr Grehan. "The driver's window was down, Marta Herda could swim, the deceased could not and Marta Herda was aware of that."

Mr Orsas lived at Brookview Court in Arklow and worked at the Brook Lodge Hotel in Wicklow. Ms Herda had been working as a part-time waitress at the same hotel, he said.

Mr Grehan said that one matter in particular would stand out for the jury: how the deceased came to be a passenger in her car shortly before 6am. He said the jury would hear telephone phone evidence.

"It was quite clear Marta Herda was able to escape," he said, suggesting that the evidence would lead the jury to conclude that she was guilty of murder.

Security guard Gavin Nolan testified that he was working at a factory at Arklow Harbour that morning, and began a patrol of the area at 5.40am.

He said that he could hear a car being driven at speed. He said the revs were very high and it sounded like it was in a low gear, as though the driver wasn't used to the vehicle.

"Three to four minutes passed," he explained. "I heard a noise. It started faintly and gradually grew into a screaming noise from a female." He said he then saw a woman running, and rang gardai. He said she was screaming something repeatedly and he believed she was Polish. "She was very, very distressed," he told the court. "Her clothes were tight to her skin as if in the water."

Frothing

Garda Fiona Furlong testified that she and a colleague had responded to the call and found the woman a short distance away. "She was soaking wet, frothing from the mouth and shaking," she said. "She repeated: 'He's in the water. You have to help', and pointed towards South Quay."

Garda Furlong and her colleague took the woman back to the quay, learning that her name was Marta. They saw a car bumper hanging off a broken barrier, but couldn't see a car or another person.

She said that, once the ambulance personnel arrived, she learned that Ms Herda had been driving the car.

The trial is expected to last three weeks before Mr Justice McCarthy and a jury of eight men and four women.

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