A tragic end to a day which started so brightly for Jack
A young Ballymena man was tragically killed at the end of a night out with friends at a nightclub in Magherafelt.
The morning of the tragedy began with great news for Jack Duffy, but a few hours later his family were receiving information which was to devastate them.
On the Saturday morning, the 19-year-old awoke to two letters - one offering him a prestigious engineering apprenticeship, the other informing him he had been selected to represent his college at an engineering convention. His family said he was “cookahoop” with the news.
That evening he set off with his group of friends to celebrate a 21st birthday party at a nightclub in Magherafelt, about 15 miles from his Dunfane Park home in Ballymena. As he waved him off, his proud father Kevin did not know it would be the last time he would see his son alive.
Having been separated from friends inside the club, Jack missed their taxi home and was struck by another taxi and killed as he began to walk out of the town along the Castledawson Road in the early hours.
At an inquest into the young engineering student’s death at Ballymena Courthouse yesterday, Kevin Duffy described his son as a “happy, carefree young lad”.
He said he last spoke to him at 6.30pm on Saturday 21 May 2011, the evening prior to his death.
“It was the happiest day of his life,” he said, telling of Jack’s plans to celebrate the achievements at the birthday night out.
Mr Duffy said he received a phone call at 2am from Jack’s friends telling him the group had become separated and they had been unable to locate Jack. He texted and tried to call his son but got no response so reported him missing to police.
He said it was out of character for Jack not to keep close contact with family. Four hours later he was given the life-shattering news his son had been killed.
He said his son was a social drinker, who rarely went to nightclubs, and had a long-term girlfriend who was studying in England. Mr Duffy said Jack would not have been familiar with Magherafelt.
“I blame myself for not going out to look for Jack when I heard he had got separated from his friends,” he told coroner Jim Kitson.
Witness Laura Wylie told how she passed a man matching Jack’s description walking along the road at around 3.30am. She said she had swerved away from him in order to avoid hitting him, adding that he appeared to be thumbing for a lift. Ms Wylie said the man was walking along the edge of the road having crossed over from where there was a footpath, adding he appeared to be intoxicated and cold.
Rachel McKee - whose sister Aisling’s birthday they the party of up to 15 had been celebrating - was one of five of those with Jack that evening to give evidence yesterday.
She said Jack and the others had drank a carry-out of alcohol at her house before heading to Magherafelt.
Ms McKee said Jack had asked to borrow £10 from her sister to buy more drink while inside the club.
She said a group of seven gathered at 1.30am to get a taxi bus back to Ballymena. Despite repeated attempts by his friends, they were unable to find Jack. They paid the taxi driver £10 to wait longer while they searched for him but around 2am had to leave without him.
Michael Dorrity - a friend for 10 years - said Jack had £60 with him on the night, money he had earned from a part-time job in a grocery store.
He said Jack was “in good spirits” on the evening, and was using his money to buy other people drinks. He said it wasn’t uncommon for his friend to disappear for spells when they were out as “he knew everyone”.
The inquest was told a police officer, Constable Luke Moyen, spoke with Jack at 2.15am after he observed him trying to open the door of a police vehicle. He said Jack apologised, saying he was just playing a joke. The officer said at no time did Jack say he was unable to get home.
The police officer saw Jack a short time later walking through the town centre with a takeaway meal.
Taxi driver Patrick Smith - who had been in the job for almost 20 years - said he was heading along the Castledawson Road away from Magherafelt just after 3.30am.
He said he suddenly heard a loud noise and his windscreen shattered. When he stopped he discovered Jack lying in the road. He said his overriding emotion since the accident was “stress”.
“I think about the accident all the time,” he said. “It’s a shocking tragedy.”
Mr Smith said he was unable to remember much about the accident due to the trauma it had inflicted on him.
Forensic scientist David Nicholson told the hearing he was satisfied Mr Smith’s vehicle - a Volkswagen Transporter - was not travelling at excessive speed and had no mechanical defaults. He said he was unable to determine whether Mr Smith’s vehicle had its full beams or dipped beams on when it struck Jack. Having carried out tests at the scene he gave the opinion that given the lack of street lighting along the road, Mr Smith would not have had time to react to seeing Jack in time to avoid a collision regardless of having his full lights on or not.
The Public Prosecution was sent details of the case and decided Mr Smith had no criminal charges to answer.
A pathology report showed Jack to have 234mcg of alcohol per 100ml of blood and no drugs in his system.
His cause of death was given as fractures of his spine in his neck.
Mr Kitson said the tragedy had cut short Jack’s life while “on the cusp of adult life”, describing the incident as “tragic and untimely”.
He added Jack’s family had been left mourning the loss of a “young fella who was happy-go-lucky” while Mr Smith must live with the burden of “an accident it appears he was unable to avoid”.
After the inquest Kevin Duffy commented only to say his family was devastated.
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Wednesday 19 June 2013
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