Woman drinking before fatal 8km wrong-way drive
MOTORISTS faced the "ultimate nightmare" when a woman driving the wrong way in the fast lane of a motorway caused a head-on collision, killing herself and a second woman.
Offaly Coroner Brian Mahon made the comments during the inquest into the death of 66-year-old Helen Gonoude of Derrygolan, Killeigh, Co Offaly.
The inquest heard Mrs Gonoude had "a moderate to high alcohol level" when she drove for around 8km against the flow of traffic in the fast lane of the M6 Dublin to Galway motorway, in Co Westmeath.
Although gardai and motorists made a number of attempts to halt her progress, Mrs Gonoude continued along the M6 until she collided head-on with a car near between Junction 6 and 7 near Moate on June 28.
The driver of the second car, Galway native Delia Flaherty who was in her 30s, died three days later at Beaumont Hospital in Dublin on July 1.
Mrs Gonoude had visited her son's home in Rochfortbridge that afternoon.
"This was my mother's first time to drive to the house," Joe Gonoude told gardai. At around 1.40pm, Mrs Gonoude left. It is thought she missed her exit and ended up in Athlone where she joined the motorway in the wrong direction at Garrycastle.
At around 2.30pm, Sarah Brennan was driving on the motorway on the Dublin side of Athlone when she saw a blue car driving towards her at about 100kph in the overtaking lane.
Although she took evasive action and beeped her horn at the car, Ms Brennan said the woman driving, "never braked, slowed or looked up at me."
Garda Elaine Conlon was on the M6 when she "suddenly noticed cars in front braking." The cars were trying to avoid an oncoming vehicle which had slowed due to the heavy traffic.
"I ran to the window and banged on the window... I told her to stop. She looked at me but she didn't make contact with me, she just drove on."
Mullingar-based Garda Eva O'Connor was working in the area when she got a call about the incident. She drove along the motorway with blue lights flashing until the car approached.
Garda O'Connor stopped and got out of her car. "I signalled to the driver to stop. However, as the car got closer it was not reducing speed," she said, adding, "this lady did not look at me, she drove around me."
Just over half a kilometre away Elizabeth and William McGuinness were in a lorry driving towards Athlone at 2.40pm. "I saw a car overtake us on the right hand lane. The next thing both cars collided headlong and seemed to jump in the air," she told gardai.
Mr McGuinness used an extinguisher to put out a fire in Mrs Gonoude's car before getting into the back of the second car and comforting Ms Flaherty until the ambulance arrived.
Both victims taken to the Midland Regional Hospital at Tullamore where Mrs Gonoude was pronounced dead. Ms Flaherty was subsequently transferred to Beaumont Hospital in Dublin.
Pathologist Dr Miriam Walshe, who conducted a post mortem examination on Mrs Gonoude, said her blood alcohol level may have been a contributory factor as it was, "high enough to cause problems with driving ability."
Coroner Brian Mahon told jurors not to "stray into the area of culpability or blame" but to "confine it to the facts and medical evidence."
He pointed to some "unusual aspects" including the fact that, "she seemed unable to comprehend that she was in an extremely dangerous situation."
"She does appear to have never driven on a motorway before," he remarked.
The inquest found Mrs Gonoude had died as a result of injuries consistent with a road traffic collision.