THE mother of a young Enniskillen man who drowned after his boat capsized as he and his friends made their way home from Castle Island where they had been drinking has described the family’s heartbreak over his death.
Maria Rogers told of how her son Lee was a ‘big softie’ and that he adored his sisters and his seven-month-old baby girl, Maise.
An emotional Ms Rogers was speaking at the inquest into her son’s death who drowned in the Lough Erne in May earlier this year.
The 20-year-old and five of his childhood friends had spent the day fishing and drinking when tragedy struck as the group made their way home on an overloaded aluminium motor boat.
The inquest heard how the father-of-one had bought the boat only a day prior to his drowning and was advised by his mother and her partner not to use it in the lough as it was not suitable.
As the group of friends made their way towards Portora Boathouse, the heavily weighed-down motor boat overturned and the six friends, none of whom were wearing lifejackets, fell into the water.
While Christopher Brazil, Shane McHugh and Ciaran Kelly swam to the shore, Barry Harvey and Philip McManus were lifted from the water by a passing cruiser.
All of the friends appeared at yesterday’s inquest, however they were not able to explain why the boat suddenly overturned.
But a tourist from Switzerland told police how he spotted one man stand up in the boat causing it to rock from side to side, seconds before it flipped over. He described the boat as looking unsafe and overloaded.
Mr Rogers was never seen again until his body was recovered by police divers close to where the accident happened.
Ms Rogers described how her son had a large circle of friends who he would have done anything for.
“Lee was very close to his family, particularly his younger brother,” she said.
“Some people still can’t speak about his death. He was a big character in our home, there was always a smile on his face and he loved his sisters and was always laughing and joking.
“I loved him to bits, the house is so empty and my heart has been ripped out. He will be sadly missed and the only part I have left of him is Maise.”
The first survivor to take to the stand was Mr McManus. He and the others recounted a similar pattern of events earlier in the day which involved fishing and drinking over several hours.
At one stage up to 11 people were drinking boxes of beer on Castle Island while Mr Rogers and a friend made a number of trips back to shore to get food.
Friends described how Lee was smoking cannabis and smeg while a pathologist report confirmed other substances were found in system including diazepam and a prescribed anti-depressant drug mirtazapine.
At around 6.15pm, the group of friends decided to leave the island because Mr Rogers was concerned about his bail conditions as he was tagged and had to be at his home address by 9pm that night.
While the boat made its way towards Portora boathouse, it capsized around 15 metres from the shore. Five of the friends were recovered from the water, however attempts by a search and rescue teams failed to find Mr Roger’s body until the next day.
Mr Harvey described the moment the boat tipped on his side and how he shouted to his friends for help as he could not swim while another passenger, Mr Kelly said he was frightened because he could not swim.
“I was pulled from the water and I remember the others shouting and crying for Lee, but I was in denial and thought he would be OK,” he added.
All of the survivors stated that it happened so quickly, with some saying they may have hit a wave.
Mr Brasil saved his friend Mr McHugh’s life by pulling him to the shore as he struggled to swim.
Mr Brasil said: “It was the most terrifying thing that has happened to me.”
Coroner Suzanne Anderson extended her sympathies to his family and friends.
To read more.. Subscribe to current edition