Friday 22 March 2019

Toppled lamp blamed for lecturer's fumes death in house blaze tragedy

Victim Grace McDermott
Victim Grace McDermott

A DCU lecturer died from carbon monoxide poisoning during a house fire in Limerick, an inquest into her death has heard.

Grace McDermott (26) had travelled to Limerick from her home in Dublin to take part in the Great Limerick Run on April 30 last year.

Limerick Coroner's Court heard how, having lost her hotel room key card, she stayed at a friend's house after bumping into him while out socialising after the race.

The court heard the cause of the fire, on May 1, was probably a lamp falling over onto a couch in the bedroom where Ms McDermott was sleeping.

The lamp, the court heard, was missing its base and was resting against the couch.

Gda Sgt Dave Bourke said the "initial focus" of the investigation was a laptop charger discovered in the room. However, this was later discounted.

The investigation switched to the lamp, but he added: "We found no evidence of a lamp."

It was accepted by all parties that the lamp could have been destroyed in the fire or "torn" off by the force of water used by firefighters to douse the flames.

Paul Collins, a forensic scientist who carried out a flammable field test on the partially destroyed couch, agreed that if the sofa had been compliant with the highest safety standards it might not have ignited.


Ms McDemott's fiance, Colin O'Neill, told the court gardai gave him back the engagement ring he had presented to his wife-to-be following her death.

Coroner John McNamara said the only verdict he could return was accidental death.

He said a number of unfortunate events had led to Ms McDermott staying at her friend's house after she had become separated from another friend.

"A series of events transpired which unfortunately led to Grace being in the house where a lamp had fallen over and, it would appear, was the catalyst for the fire," he said.

The room was fitted with a fire door, the court heard.

Mr McNamara said he intended to contact the Department of the Environment, recommending smoke detectors be fitted in every bedroom of every new home.

"I don't know how practical it is… but I don't think it would be a high price to pay to save some lives," he said.

"Fire doors prevent (fires) escaping, but when someone is in the room it's giving them no chance."

Four other people were in the house at the time of the fire but all escaped uninjured.

Cathal Sheridan, a friend of Ms McDermott's, who invited her back to the house, told how he tried to rescue her but was held back by his housemates.

"My abiding memory is roaring Grace's name," he said.

"She was the nicest girl you could ever meet; the smartest, most intelligent girl."

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