Polish man swerved onto other side of road causing death of Strabane man

The partner of a man killed in a crash outside Strabane, broke down yesterday as she told his inquest he had kissed her and said he loved her before leaving for the last time.

Long-distance lorry driver Declan Harvey died after the driver of an articulated truck crossed into the wrong lane and crashed into him, the inquest heard.

The man charged with causing Mr Harvey’s death through dangerous driving, Jerzy Rataj, was found dead in a hotel in his native Poland in February this year.

Mr Harvey died from multiple injuries resulting from the collision, which occurred shortly after he left his Co Tyrone home bound for Dublin.

Mr Harvey’s partner of 22 years wept in Strabane Courthouse yesterday as she recalled how Declan left their home for the last time in the early hours of November 10, 2010.

Rosemary Rouse lived with the 43-year-old and their children at Lisnafin Park.

She told the inquest that before he left he came upstairs and gave her a kiss.

PSNI Inspector Clive Beatty said he was made aware of a serious road traffic collision on the Melmount Road near Sion Mills at around 3.50am.

He said that on arrival he found that the road was not slippery and appeared to be free from ice. He saw one lorry with a blue Tesco trailer attached facing towards him on the Omagh bound lane.

The second lorry and trailer driven by Mr Harvey was found to have mostly gone off the verge and come to a standstill after hitting a tree.

Mr Harvey was trapped inside the vehicle for a time but emergency medical staff at the scene could find no sign of life.

Inspector Beatty was present when Mr Rataj was later interviewed on suspicion of causing death by dangerous driving and charged.

56-year-old Mr Rataj, who at the time lived in the Swords area of Dublin, was later released on bail at Omagh Court and at a later hearing was granted leave to visit Poland for a few days in February.

It was during this visit to his homeland that he died.

PSNI constable David Thompson from the collision investigation unit in Antrim said that records from the vehicle had shown Mr Harvey had left at 3.31am, 11 minutes before his death.

Both drivers were within the speed limit for the road.

Damien Coll, senior scientific officer with Forensic Science NI, agreed that the cause of the accident was down to driver error in that Mr Rataj had crossed over into the opposite lane prior to the crash.

Coroner Suzanne Anderson found that Mr Rataj had crossed the central divide into the carriageway Mr Harvey was driving along.