Inquest told crash driver was doing 80mph after pub night out (From The Wiltshire Gazette and Herald)
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Inquest told crash driver was doing 80mph after pub night out
9:00am Thursday 23rd August 2012 in News
COLLEAGUES of shopfitter Stuart Hughes have told how they struggled to rescue him after his car plunged into the Kennet and Avon canal after an 80mph crash.
An inquest on Monday heard the 26-year-old was over the drink drive limit when his Volvo crashed through railings on Prison Bridge in Devizes in March.
Colleagues Kevin Phillips and James Blow were passengers in the car as it headed to a bed and breakfast in Melksham after a night out in Devizes.
“I looked inside the car. I could see Stuart in the driver’s seat, his eyes were open. He didn’t appear to be moving. He made no attempt to get out of the car,” said Mr Blow.
Motorist Stuart Hughes was over the drink drive limit and driving at 80 mph when his car crashed through railings on Prison Bridge in Devizes and plunged into the Kennet and Avon Canal.
The hearing in Salisbury on Monday heard that despite efforts by his two passengers, a passer-by, police and paramedics, Mr Hughes, 26, could not be saved and he died of freshwater drowning.
The incident happened shortly before midnight on March 15 when Mr Hughes was driving himself and colleagues, Kevin Phillips and James Blow back to their bed and breakfast in Melksham.
The trio, from South Wales, were shopfitters and had been working at B&Q in Devizes. Team leader Mr Hughes and his colleagues had been at the Castle Hotel and the British Lion pubs in Devizes that evening.
Neither Mr Phillips, 28, nor Mr Blow, 23, knew how much Mr Hughes had been drinking but had no concerns about him driving.
Both men said in statements that Mr Hughes would sometimes speed.
Mr Phillips said: “Stuart could be a bit of a boy racer at times. He could exceed the speed limit at times and I would ask him to slow down. Having said that I wouldn’t describe him as being reckless.”
On the drive back to Melksham on March 15 as Mr Hughes’ car, a Volvo S60, got into Bath Road, Devizes, which has a 30mph speed limit, he accelerated causing concern to Mr Phillips and Mr Blow.
Mr Phillips ended a phone call, put on his seat belt and asked Mr Hughes to slow down. As they approached Prison Bridge, which has a sharp left hand bend, Mr Hughes braked but the Volvo crashed through the railings sideways on, hit the bank on the opposite side and rolled into the canal.
Both Mr Phillips and Mr Blow managed to get out of the partially submerged car and tried to get Mr Hughes out.
Mr Blow said: “I was able to get out of the car, I have no memory of how I did. I was able to grab hold of Kevin. I couldn’t see Stuart. I attempted to get back in the car by opening the front passenger door which was still above the water but it was jammed shut. I looked inside the car. I could see Stuart in the driver’s seat, his eyes were open. He didn’t appear to be moving. He made no attempt to get out of the car.”
Chris Clapham, who was visiting his girlfriend in Avon Road, heard the crash and went out to investigate. He joined Mr Phillips and Mr Blow in trying to rescue Mr Hughes but the car quickly went under the water.
Mr Clapham said in a statement: “It was very difficult to see anything in the water. I swam towards the middle of the canal and felt a solid object below the water.
“I began to feel below the water with my hands. It was impossible to tell what part of the vehicle I was on. The other two lads were on the car trying to do the same and shouting ‘Stuart, Stuart’.”
Paramedics and PC Kev Reed also went into the water but were unable to rescue Mr Hughes.
Mr Hughes’ car was lifted out of the canal by crane and his body was in the driver’s seat with the seatbelt on.
A toxicology test found the level of alcohol in Mr Hughes’ blood was 143 milligrammes. The legal limit is 80 milligrammes.
A pathologist found a head injury and PC James Trafford, who investigated the crash, said it was likely Mr Hughes was knocked unconscious as a result of the crash.
He said Mr Hughes’ car was travelling at or more than 80mph when he began braking 35 metres before the apex of the bend at Prison Bridge. PC Trafford said: “Stuart was driving at dangerously high speed while under the influence of alcohol.”
Mr Hughes parents, Dorian and Susan Hughes, and his brother, Stephen, were at the inquest in Salisbury on Monday.
Dorian Hughes, of James Street, Tredegar, said in a statement to the inquest: “Stuart wasn’t much of a drinker.
“The fact he was over the legal drink drive limit totally shocked us. It’s totally out of character.”
Assistant deputy coroner for Wiltshire Ian Singleton recorded a verdict of accidental death.