The coroner presiding at the inquest into the death of 15-year-old Kyle Bonnes has concluded that his death may have been preventable had there been life-saving equipment available.
Senior Coroner John Leckey yesterday (April 29) announced he would be writing to the Department of Culture Arts and Leisure (DCAL) about the provision of such equipment along the stretch of the River Faughan where Kyle died.
Mr Leckey also said he would be writing to Derry City Council on the matter during the second and final day of the inquest at Magherafelt Courthouse.
He also recommended that, Mark Sargeant, a customer at a nearby public house who jumped in to attempt to save the teenager received appropriate recognition for his ‘heroism.’
The coroner concluded that Kyle Bonnes died from fresh water drowning shortly after entering the River Faughan on April 7, 2010.
He said vodka consumed that day by Kyle was likely to have played a part in the tragedy.
Mr Leckey said: “The alcohol in his system was 182mg per 100ml of blood. The pathologist expressed the view that this level of intoxication could have made him more susceptible to drowning, as well as impeding his ability to get out of the water.
“Whilst agreeing with this I would add that the effect of that level of alcohol, or indeed any level of alcohol, on a youth of 15 years of age should not be discounted.”
Speaking about the lack of life-saving equipment, the coroner said: “I have concluded that had life-saving equipment been strategically placed at the location it may have been possible for Kyle to have been rescued.
“However, I recognise that if such equipment had been readily available any rescue would have been fraught with danger, bearing in mind Kyle’s intoxicated state - the paralysing effects caused by the coldness of the water, the treacherous current in that part of the river and the short time it takes to drown even where water conditions are more benign than they were.”
Yesterday (Tuesday, April 29), the two police officers who pursued Kyle Bonnes and another youth in the time before the death of the teenager were cross-examined.
PSNI officer’s Nicholas Rainey and Peter Olphert had been tasked to the scene via radio following a complaint from a member of the public.
They described arriving at the scene between 5.20 and 5.25pm and parked close to a bus stop on the Glenshane Road and observing Kyle with his trousers down and exposing himself.
Both constables said there were a number of other people in the area at the time including a woman who was walking her dog.
Officer Rainey, who had only been in the police for 13 weeks at the time of the incident, said he got out of the car and walked towards the youths who were around 40-50 metres away at the time.
In their statements both police officers said the youth initially began walking in their direction, but then turned and ran the opposite way which prompted the police pursuit.
Both officers said they shouted repeatedly for the youths to stop but one ran off and climbed over a fence, whilst Kyle started climbing down rocks and despite calls for him not to go into the water entered the River Faughan.
Constable Rainey said Kyle Bonnes became distressed around eight metres out into the river which was approximately 20 seconds after he entered the water.
“I climbed down the rocks as far as I could, I grabbed a stick when he shouted for help. I shouted ‘take hold of the stick,’” said Constable Rainey.
The coroner’s court heard he was unable to do so nor was he able to grab hold of a branch held out by Constable Olphert.
Shortly afterwards, he disappeared several times under the water, the court heard.
Under cross examination from the Bonnes’ family counsel barrister Ivor McAteer, Constable Rainey, like Constable Olphert said neither the deceased nor the other youth was known to them.
When questioned, Constable Rainey agreed there was no police policy for pursuing people on foot at the time and whilst neither officer could swim both said they were clear they were not supposed to enter the water under such circumstances but were supposed to wait for emergency specialist rescue services.
Constable Rainey said they experience had been a “traumatic one,” and continued by saying “I still think about it all the time every time I pass that area.”
Both officers also defended the decision to pursue the two boys.
When asked if he thought it was dangerous to pursue an intoxicated person running in the direction of the river, Constable Olphert said: “I didn’t think anybody would be so stupid as to jump into the river.”
He agreed with Counsel for the PSNI, barrister Mark Robinson, who said that they were a number of routes that Kyle could have taken as the other youth had.
Concluding yesterday’s hearing, Coroner John Leckey expressed his very “deep sympathy” to the Bonnes family and said it had been a “dreadful tragedy.”