Cause of fatal crash at Needham Market remains unclear, inquest finds

Suffolk Coroner's Court
Suffolk Coroner's Court
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The cause of a crash in which a teenager died inside a blazing car remains unknown, an inquest has heard.

Reece Harnetty, 19, died when his Mini Clubman car collided with the back of a parked lorry in a layby beside the westbound carriageway of A14 at Creeting St Mary on January 20.

Today an inquest at Suffolk Coroners’ Court in Ipswich was told that Reece, of Ilmington Drive, Basildon, had turned sharply from the outside lane into the layby.

A monitoring device linked to his insurance cover showed the car was travelling at 85mph.

The impact threw lorry driver Richard Walker from his bunk and trapped roughly half the Mini beneath the trailer of his articulated lorry which was loaded with a 40ft long freight container.

In a statement, witness Dan Braun described how the Mini had neither slowed or changed course as it turned sharply towards the lorry.

Mr Braun said he was travelling past just feet away when the crash occurred and stopped to call emergency services by which time the car and lorry were engulfed in a fierce blaze.

He said: “It became an inferno with flames coming out the sides of the lorry.”

Four fire crews were called to the scene and, after the blaze was doused, a paramedic confirmed that Reece, who was trapped inside the wreckage of the Mini, was dead.

After identification using DNA, a post mortem examination confirmed Reece died as a result of extensive third degree burns and as a result of a road traffic collision.

Toxicology tests conducted at Imperial College, London ruled out the presence of alcohol or drugs.

Forensic accident investigator Pc Jeff Cribb said no defects could be identified with the Mini, although a full examination was not possible because of the severity of the fire, and no faults were found with the road surface.

Pc Cribb said the lorry, which had been partly pulled off the layby onto the verge, had not been displaying any lights when the collision took place.

Checks showed that Reece had used his mobile phone shortly before the crash and had been upset because of relationship problems with a girl he had met online, but there was no evidence that he was using his phone at the time of the accident.

The inquest heard that in some calls Reece, who refused to say where he was and was sobbing, said he ‘didn’t want to be here anymore’ before ending his last call without saying goodbye to Alicia Watts.

In a statement, Ms Watts said she tried to call Reece back but all her calls were diverted to voicemail. Two days before the accident, Reece left a teddy bear and a love note on her doorstep.

Reece’s mother Wendy Harnetty told the inquest her son, who was not an experienced driver having only passed his test last May, could have mistaken the layby for the inside lane on a road he had not used before.

She said: “I think before he realised that lorry was there it was too late.”

Reece’s father Paul said his son had been happy and his usual self when he last saw him. He had also been looking forward to a family holiday.

Suffolk area coroner Nigel Parsley said: “We won’t ever fully know, regrettably, what made Reece turn into that layby. There are some unanswered questions here, however, there is insufficient evidence to suggest that Reece intended to take his life.”

Mr Parsley recorded a conclusion that Reece died as a result of a road traffic collision.