AN ELDERLY Irish farmer who had been assessed for dementia died when his jeep collided with a van on the wrong side of the M8 Dublin-Cork motorway, an inquest has heard.
The inquest into the death of Tom Joe O’Riordan heard today that passing motorists desperately sounded their horns and flashed their lights in a bid to avert tragedy as the 84-year-old drove north on the road’s southbound lane.
Mr O’Riordan, a north Cork native, died within moments when his 23-year-old Isuzu Trooper jeep collided head-on with a newspaper delivery van between Watergrasshill and Rathcormac on December 30, 2016.
The jury at the Cork inquest were shown CCTV footage of Mr O’Riordan performing a U-turn at the toll plaza at Watergrasshill shortly before he began driving north on the southbound lane.
He lost his life just minutes later after driving 3km and colliding with van driver Conor McCarthy’s vehicle at a bend in the motorway near Junction 16.
Mr McCarthy said he was driving behind a large oil lorry which obstructed his view at the time and was struck by Mr O’Riordan’s jeep as he passed it.
"I didn't have time to react," he said.
Mr McCarthy was seriously injured in the crash and spent a month in hospital being treated for a broken wrist, leg, pelvis and hip.
He added: “It was the worst pain I’ve ever had”.
Mr O'Riordan was discovered unconscious and bleeding in his wrecked jeep just moments after the incident.
The pensioner died at the scene before he could be rushed to Cork University Hospital (CUH).
Assistant State Pathologist Dr Margaret Bolster – who by coincidence was the first responder on scene following the crash – found that the father-of-three had died from a severe and traumatic brain injury.
He had also suffered fractures to his skull, facials bones, ribs, arm, pelvis and hip, she said.
The coroner was told that Mr O’Riordan had been assessed for dementia in 2011 after he complained of memory loss.
A neurological examination revealed traces of Alzheimer-type pathology in his brain, but the jury was told that this was not a diagnosis of the condition.
Such pathology is relatively common in very elderly people but a diagnosis is entirely dependent on an assessment of cognitive functions.
Mr O’Riordan was a very active man for his age through his work within farming and GAA circles, and was a talented hurler himself having won East Cork medals with Castlelyons in the 1950’s and 60’s – eventually being nominated as Honorary Life President of the club.
The last person to speak to him, Rathcormac Tyre Centre official Patrick Beecher, said Mr O’Riordan was "in normal form that day" having chatted to him about the weather.
Mr O’Riordan had stopped by the garage to get one of his jeep’s tires checked and left at 11.20am, minutes before his death.
The jury returned a narrative verdict, concluding that Mr O'Riordan died in a fatal accident after driving against the flow of traffic on the M8 motorway.