Verdicts of accidental death have been returned for a family killed in a motorway collision last year near Ballinasloe, Co Galway, while an open verdict was returned in relation to the man who drove into them.
The inquest before coroner Dr Richard Joyce heard that traces of cannabis were found in the blood of Jonasz Adam Lach (43), of Portumna, Co Galway, who drove his car at speed for two kilometres eastwards in the westbound lane of the M6 before colliding with the car of Karzan Sabah Ahmed (36), his wife, Shahen Qasim Faris (30), and their eight-month-old daughter, Lina Sabah, killing the family and himself.
The collision occurred on the evening of August 19th, 2021, at Poolboy, Ballinasloe, Co Galway. Mr Lach, of Portumna, Co Galway, had been discharged from Roscommon University Hospital on August 3rd, 2021, having been taken there by gardaí 11 days earlier and held at first as an involuntary psychiatric patient.
Mr Lach had been suffering from mania and psychotic episodes and had to be physically restrained at one stage while in hospital. He was told when he was leaving hospital that it was important that he take his prescribed medicine and stay away from cannabis, the inquest was told by consultant psychiatrist Dr Aengus O’Conghaile.
Dr O’Conghaile said Mr Lach was assessed on August 3rd and had denied that he had ideas of harming himself or others. The team did not identify grounds for Mr Lach’s involuntary detention. He was collected from the hospital by his partner, Ewa Ciastko.
Responding to Dr Joyce, Dr O’Conghaile said the timeframe for a patient to move from acting normally to being psychotic could be accelerated by stress, lack of sleep, substance abuse, and lack of compliance with the taking of prescribed medicines.
Dr O’Conghaile told solicitor Micheal Collins, for Mr Lach’s family, that during his stay at Roscommon University Hospital Mr Lach had auditory hallucinations and delusions of persecution but had improved with treatment. The involuntary retention of a patient required an assessment that they were a risk to themselves or others, or needed to be detained for treatment reasons, he said.
On the evening of the collision truck driver David O’Leary said he saw a dark VW Touran driving on the wrong side of the M6 at 120km per hour or faster, swerving between the lanes and avoiding the oncoming traffic. The car didn’t brake once and had almost travelled out of his sight when he saw it collide with a blue VW Golf that was knocked into the air and over a motorway barrier.
In delivering his verdict in relation to Mr Lach’s death, Dr Joyce noted that his car had travelled 2km from where it entered the motorway. If it had been Mr Lach’s immediate intention to take his own life, a collision might have taken place straight away, he noted. “We don’t know what his intentions were.”
The inquest heard that Karzan Ahmed and his family were returning to Galway from a trip to Carlow where they had viewed an apartment. Auctioneer Sinead Mulvihill said she met them that afternoon and told them she was recommending them for the apartment because she “liked them”.
At the time Karzan Ahmed was a PhD candidate at NUI Galway and was preparing to take up a research position with Teagasc in Carlow. His family was part of a close-knit community of Kurdish people in Galway, and Karzan Ahmed was subsequently awarded a posthumous PhD in science.
Ms Ciastko told the inquest she came to Ireland from Poland in 2012, met Mr Lach in Ballinasloe, and they started dating. They had their first child in 2013, and their second in 2017. Mr Lach already had another child who lives in Poland.
Mr Lach, she said, worked in Aldi, first in Ballinasloe and later in Portumna. “He used to smoke weed, but not a lot,” she said. In 2018 he began to have difficulties at work and became paranoid that people were watching him.
That year he travelled to Poland for a funeral and overstayed. It transpired that he had been jailed for attacking a policeman and was later transferred to a psychiatric hospital in Warsaw where he was diagnosed as having mental health problems that might be associated with cannabis use.
In Cork the following year he had a psychotic episode during which he drove up a street the wrong way and was chased by gardaí. He jumped into a river when trying to escape and was later taken to an acute psychiatric unit in hospital.
Ms Ciastko said Mr Lach had run away from the hospital in Cork without his phone and walked 120km to Nenagh before she found him and brought him home. His feet were in a bad way by the time she collected him, she told Mr Collins.