Tributes have been paid to two soldiers from England with “fantastic futures ahead of them” who died when their car was involved in a collision with a tractor on the Ballyconnelly Road, Cullybackey, on Friday night.
Lance Corporal David Gwilt from Bedford and Rifleman Dale Harris from Barnsley, both aged 24, served with the 2nd Battalion The Rifles based in Lisburn.
Their Commanding Officer, Officers and Soldiers said in a statement at the weekend that their “tragic deaths” had come as a “terrible shock” to the Battalion.
“David and Dale were much liked, professional and hugely competent soldiers who had fantastic futures ahead of them,” the statement said.
“The whole battalion is deeply saddened by their loss and our heartfelt condolences go to their families and friends at this most difficult time.”
A 21-year-old man, who was also in the car, suffered head injuries that are not believed to be life-threatening.
The driver of the tractor was treated at the scene for injuries that are not believed to be serious.
Extending sympathy to the soldiers’ families, local SDLP Councillor Declan O’Loan said: “We all understand what it is like to get this kind of tragic news when a family member is away from home. I also extend my support to all of those who were involved in this tragic accident.
“Six people have died in road accidents across Ireland in the last few days, a further reminder to all of us of the real dangers on every road journey.”
Local DUP Councillor Tommy Nicholl said: “The local community are numbed with what has happened and they have been in touch with me to express their sympathies to the families concerned.
“My thoughts and prayers are with the injured at this time and the local community are praying for a speedy recovery.”
Cllr Nicholl said that having been concerned for some time about the layout of the road junction, he has arranged a meeting with DRD Roads Service officials “to see if we can improve the visibility”.
“This is the second accident that has happened within the last few weeks at this junction,“ he added.
Extending his condolences, UUP MLA Robin Swann called on the community to remember the families in their thoughts and prayers and also pray for the recovery of those who had been injured in the accident.
Mr Swann said he and party colleague Ballymena councillor William McNeilly would be seeking a meeting with the Roads Division “to urgently introduce measures at this Cullybackey area to prevent it from becoming a notorious accident blackspot in the future”.
“We don’t want to see more families plunged into sorrow because of horrific accidents. We urge everyone in the community to remember the families involved in the Ballyconnelly Road tragedy,” said Assemblyman Swann and Councillor McNeilly.
Commenting on the weekend’s tragic road fatalities in Cullybackey and across the province, PSNI Road Policing Team commander, Assistant Chief Constable Stephen Martin said: “Our thoughts are with all those who have been affected by these tragic events both in Northern Ireland and further afield”.
“This sharp spike has again brought into focus the real need for all road users to take responsibility for their actions.”
So far this year, 48 people have died on our roads.
Police have appealed for witnesses to the Cullybackey crash, which was reported shortly after 8.15pm on Friday, to come forward.