Parents pledge to raise awareness of road safety after inquest into Armagh crash

November 28, 2016

The mothers of two teenage boys who were killed in a horror smash at Fews Forest gave a heartbreaking testimony at the inquest into their deaths last week.

Mark Hutcheson and Andrew Gass, who were both seventeen, died when the Vauxhall Astra they were in hit a tree on the Cladymilltown Road between Markethill and Newtownhamilton on January 21 this year.  The teenagers, who were both from the Markethill area, were lifelong friends and neighbours and attended Southern Regional College together. All three boys had been heading to a skills competition at Portadown College.

Back seat passenger, Thomas ‘TJ’ McCormack, who was sixteen at the time, miraculously survived the crash.  He told the inquest at the Coroner’s Court in Armagh last Tuesday, that he felt the vehicle was going fast and that the driver, Andrew Gass – who had just passed his test 12 days beforehand – had tried to regain control of the car after he had looked momentarily to his left, before making contact with a grass verge.

Hearing the  tyres squealing and knowing they would hit the tree, Mr McCormack said he closed his eyes and rolled up into a ball when he saw the tree.  When he opened his eyes he described seeing two seats and the roof and shouting to his friends to see if they were OK.  Receiving no reply he climbed out the back window and jumped into the field before ringing police and emergency services.

A forensic investigation of the crash scene revealed that the vehicle was being driven between 50 and 53 miles per hour on the country road before the collision.

Andrew’s mother,  Heather Gass explained how her son had been studying welding and fabrication at Southern Regional College and recalled that on the morning of the crash she had told her son to “take care”, just as she had done every morning.

Mrs Gass described how her “world fell apart” when she learned her son had died in the crash. She said Andrew was “the life and soul” of the family home, and added that since his death the family’s lives had changed completely.

“Our Sunday afternoons were always full of fun before Andrew died,” she said.

“Now there is no laughter on Sundays any more. His sister and brother miss him so much. The house is so quiet without him.”

Mrs Hutcheson told the court of her frantic attempts to make contact with her son Mark, after receiving a text message from her daughter about a serious road accident  involving “a person by the name of Gass”.

“I had Mark’s phone set up to track where he was and when I tracked it, the phone came up as being at Cladymilltown Road… I called Mark’s mobile and it went straight to answerphone,” she said.

Recalled the heartbreaking moment her husband told her of her son’s death, the distraught mum said she felt “total devastation” and added that coping with their loss had been difficult for her family and that she has been unable to return to work.

Speaking outside court, Mrs Hutcheson said both families had been through a “traumatic” 10 months, and that their mission is to raise awareness of road safety to help them move forward from the tragedy.

In his findings, the coroner concluded that the cause of death for Andrew Gass was bruising and laceration of the brain, and fractures to the skull.  Mark Hutcheson’s death was due to head injury as a result of a road traffic collision.

Extending his “sincerest condolences” to the Hutcheson and Gass families, Mr McGurgan urged young drivers to be aware “that speed kills. Inattention kills.

“I hope that, through the media, young drivers will read about this tragedy and exercise extreme caution on the roads as a result, particularly in the run-up to Christmas.”