‘Good people doing God’s work’
VERDICT Accidental deaths recorded after Cashel Cross accident
“They died doing what they loved... they died doing God’s work.”
United in grief, the families of the late Christian outreach workers Margaret Joan McAlister (better known as Joan) and William Albert Ian Kennedy (best known as Ian) spoke glowingly of how their loved ones were “happiest” travelling Ireland to spread the word of God.
Both were involved with Christian outreach, and were highly-respected and much-loved volunteers with the Irish Evangelistic Band.
The pair were just minutes from arriving at a Gospel Mission near Ballinagh when the Skoda Fabia, driven by Mr Kennedy, emerged onto the N55 and was struck by an oncoming vehicle.
The accident at Cashel Cross occurred the evening of February 28, 2020, and a combined inquest into their deaths was held before Dr Mary Flanagan at Cavan Courthouse last week.
Families of both Ms McAlister (66) from Portadown, Co Armagh, and Mr Kennedy (67) from Donemana, Co Tyrone, were in attendance.
The deposition of Michael Ryan, driver of the other vehicle, was read into evidence by Garda Sergeant Dermot Lavin. He had travelled up from Charleville in Co Cork that evening in his Toyoya Landcruiser, stopping in Athlone for refreshment.
He knew the road well, on his way to visit his partner, and arrived into Ballinagh around 6.50pm.
It was “sleeting” outside and the N55 was “busy” with traffic. Driving around 80kmph on approach to Cashel Cross, he said a vehicle “came out of no where”, like a “train” or a “flash of lightening”, giving him “no time” to take evasive action.
A HGV driver by profession, Mr Ryan said the incident was “totally unexpected”.
Rachel Sweeney BL, counsel acting on behalf of Valerie Ruddell, sister of the late Ms McAlister, queried the speed at which Mr Ryan said he was driving, and asked whether he had been travelling at 110kmph when the crash occurred. “I wouldn’t accept that I was,” replied Mr Ryan.
David Almond, a member of the defence forces, was travelling home when he came across the fatal road traffic collision.
In the Skoda Fabia, near the ditch on the far side of the road, he found Mr Kennedy in the driver’s seat.
His passenger, Mr Almond said, had “flipped” with the force of the impact. She was not wearing a seatbelt.
Soon after, other members of the public stopped to help, and gardaí and emergency services were called.
Richard Smith went to Mr Ryan’s vehicle where he found the driver in the rear of the Landcruiser “dazed and confused”.
He was among those who attempted to help move Ms McAlister but her foot was trapped in the wreckage.
Cormac Keogh was travelling with partner Aoife Lynch to attend a wake near Ballinagh.
At the silver car, he said there was a man in army fatigues trying to force open the driver’s side door.
He told gardaí his belief the female may have passed away before they had arrived.
Aoife Lynch corroborated the series of events as described by Mr Keogh.
After confirming the contents of her deposition, she assured the families of Ms McAlister and Mr Kennedy that their loved ones “did not die alone”.
Garda Amanda Fleming was off duty and travelling home from work when she happened upon the accident. She immediately contacted Cavan Garda Station and began flagging passing traffic to stop due to debris scattered across the road surface.
At 7.05pm emergency services arrived. An ECG was attached but there was no heartbeat and both Ms McAlister and Mr Kennedy were believed to have passed away.
Garda Keith Maguire was among the contingent of officers tasked with responding to Gda Fleming’s call.
He noted the road condition as “dry” and closed off the scene to allow for forensic inspection.
A check run on the Skoda Fabia’s registration returned that the licensed owner was Ms McAlister, a retired school teacher.
There was no identification found on the male.
Dr Niall Collins pronounced time of death for both at 8.31pm.
Mr Ryan passed a roadside breath test, and later a Dräger 5000 drug test.
Walter Pringle from Clones and Henry Jordan from Drung approached the closed section of road, telling Gda Maguire they were attached to a Gospel Mission and had been waiting for two guest speakers.
Later Mr Jordan was asked to accompany gardaí to Cavan General where a formal identification of the two bodies took place.
The depositions of Chris Lennon, ambulance paramedic, Dr Niall Collins, and Henry Jordan were read into the record.
Sgt Damien Hunt, forensic crash investigator, told the inquest the road travelled by Ms McAlister and Mr Kennedy prior to emerging onto the N55 had two advance warning signs. The junction itself is governed by a ‘Stop’ sign, though the road markings were faded at the time of inspection.
“The Skoda appeared to have failed to stop,” Sgt Hunt told the inquest, explaining that the force of impact caused the smaller vehicle to leave the road for up to seven metres before landing and travelling a further 51 metres to where it finally halted in the ditch.
There were “no defects” found with the Skoda, and Ms McAlister was found not to have been wearing her seatbelt.
In Mr Ryan’s vehicle Sgt Hunt found a “dummy” seatbelt connected, and it was his belief that he too had been “unrestrained” when the crash occurred.
From his examinations, Sgt Hunt found evidence that Mr Ryan had been travelling at an estimated 110kmph, with his vehicle slowed to 92kmph at time of impact.
Sgt Hunt said he was “satisfied” there was no way the collision could have been avoided, noting had Mr Kennedy not emerged from the side road, the accident “would not have occurred”.
Dr Muna Sabah, consultant pathologist, told the inquest that Ms McAlister suffered thoracic injury, with bilateral and sternum fractures, and laceration of the aorta attached to the heart. The latter was caused by the abruptness of the car stopping when crashed into.
Mr Kennedy meanwhile suffered cranial and cerebral injuries consistent with a car accident.
A toxicological analysis returned negative for drugs or alcohol.
The medical expert said death in both cases had occurred almost instantaneously.
A verdict of accidental death was recorded. Dr Flanagan sympathised with the bereaved families, describing what occurred as a “terribly tragic, and terribly unexpected situation”.
Outside, Mr Jordan paid personal tribute to both Ms McAlister and Mr Kennedy.
“They were good people doing God’s work, both very close friends of mine, and we miss them very much.”
He went on to state that neither their memory nor their legacy within the Irish Evangelistic Band (IEB) community would be forgotten.
“Their memory lives on forever. They were tireless workers, and they died doing God’s work. We miss them so much, especially the family, and the church family as well.”
Ann Clarke, sister of Mr Kennedy, said her brother and Ms McAlister “died doing what they enjoyed doing, and spent their time doing. [God’s work] is what they spent their time doing, week in, week out, didn’t matter the weather, they were out trying to help others.”
Ms McAlister’s sister Valerie, who during the inquest thanked those who came to the deceased’s aid, said her sibling had devoted the best part of 20 years ministering across the island of Ireland. “She loved the Irish people.”
An emotional Ms Ruddell added that one of the last things Ms McAlister said to her was: “I have done my best for Ireland.”
Daughter of the late James and Violet, Ms McAlister was survived by sister Valerie, brother-in-law Freddie, niece Esther, nephews Jonathan, Andrew and Steven, and extended family.
Mr Kennedy was predeceased by wife Margaret and a sister Jacqueline, and survived by four sisters - Ann, Kathleen, Adeline and Audrey.
Ms McAlister’s funeral took place at Thomas Street Methodist Church, Portadown, followed by a private family interment, with Mr Kennedy buried following his funeral at St James’ Church of Ireland in Donemana.