Ellie Carey - Coroner's inquest hears detailed evidence of London lorry cycling fatality

22 year old Ellie Carey was killed on Tower Bridge Road in December 2011 when she was hit by a lorry turning left into Abbey st.

The Coroner's inquest heard how she probably did not realise that the lorry was about to turn left sharply across her path. She was killed instantly.

There are some strong lessons that we can learn from the evidence given to Deputy Coroner for South London, Lorna Tagliavini. The sequence of events was captured by CCTV on a London Transport bus which was close behind. 

Using the bus video recordings the police Collision Investigator Andrew Smith worked out the exact position of the lorry and Ellie's bicycle second by second.

The bus driver, Helen Henry, told how she saw Ellie behind the lorry and then going forward as the lights changed to green. As the lorry began its left turn Ellie "tried to wave to get the driver's attention".  The driver didn't see her even though the police evidence suggested that Ellie could have been seen in one or both of the driver's mirrors in the seven seconds leading up to the crash.


Hazardous Road layout

The court heard that the junction is a very tight corner where Tower Bridge road is narrow and Abbey street even narrower. To make the turn the 10 metre long lorry had to move as far to the right as possible, leaving a gap of 2 and a half metres on the left. At the last minute the driver would have had to turn very sharply to get around the corner without running onto the pavement.

Since Ellie's death the junction has been re-designed by Transport for London, it had previously been identified as a high risk crossing by local residents. Left turns have now been banned, an ASL cyclists' safety area has been installed and the the lanes straightened for northbound traffic.


Lessons for cyclists

It is quite likely that Ellie was wearing earphones and was listening to Radio 4 Women's Hour at the time of the crash. Her phone was found beside her on the road, turned on and still tuned into the BBC. While the sound of the radio may not have been a factor, the act of listening might have divided her attention leading to less awareness of the risk of the turning lorry.

As she approached the lorry it was indicating a left turn but it was at least 2 and a half metres from the left curb. Most cyclists don't realise that such a wide gap, a full lorry's width, does not mean it is safe. Wide gaps to the left of lorry at a junction should be seen as a warning that the lorry is about to turn left.

As the lights changed both Ellie and the lorry accelerated forward. It is likely that the lorry moved forward for 12 or 13 metres before beginning to turn, that is more than the full length of the lorry. It then began to turn across Ellie's path as she went forward. Ellie started from a position near the back of the lorry going at about the same speed. As the lorry changed direction it would have lost all forward speed. For Ellie it would be like a large gate swinging shut across her path.

 The evidence showed that there was simply not enough time for Ellie to get out of the way, it was already too late.


Lessons for drivers

Unusually the driver of the lorry, David Johnson (31) was not in court for the inquest. Tragically he had died of cancer in 2012. The police Senior Investigating Offcer gave evidence that she recommended a charge of 'causing death by dangerous driving' and that she believed that the Crown Prosecution Service would have charged the driver if he had not been terminally ill.

The court heard that the driver's personal mobile phone had received 3 text messages in the four or five minutes before the crash. The police were unable to discover if Mr Johnson had read the messages. When he was arrested his phone was taken but the password he gave did not work. At a later interview he was unable to remember the password for the phone.

Kevin O'Sullivan of Levenes Solicitors, representing Ellie's family, suggested that when the lorry stopped at Abbey street would have been the first opportunity for Mr Johnson to check his phone and read the texts.  We will never know if that was the case.

PC Smith reconstructed what the driver might have been able to see in his nearside mirrors. The lorry was less than two years old and was in excellent conditions. Ellie would have been visible in the main mirror for four seconds before the lights changed. As she moved up the side of the lorry she might have gone out of view of this mirror for a fraction of a second but she would have been visible in the wide angle mirror for all of the time.

Verdict

No one was able to explain why Ellie was not seen by the driver despite being visible in the mirrors.

The coroners finding was that the cause of death was 'Road Traffic Collision'.  This verdict is a new option available to coroners instead of 'Accidental Death' which in the past tended to give an impression that nothing could be done to avoid such collisions or to reduce the risks for cyclists from large lorries.

Replies

  • By JonF73 at 6:14pm 15 May 2013

What sort of Coroner  gives a verdict like that?

'Road Traffic Collision' is one of the facts, not a Verdict.

In this type of inquest the Coroner's main duty is to establish the cause of death. The cause or 'verdict' usually comes from a list of 8 options including: natural causes, accidental death, suicide, unlawful killing etc. The option to choose 'Road Traffic Collision' as cause or 'verdict' is an addition to the list which LCC welcomes.

In Ellie's case the Coroner's verdict included a short narrative of what happened in the moments before her death.

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