A young woman was driving a car which lost control leading to her sister’s tragic death, an inquest heard.
Zoe Tattersall's 16-year-old sister Alex was a passenger in her blue Volkswagen Polo when it drifted into the path of a red Nissan Micra in Manley Road, near Helsby , about 4.20pm on Wednesday, December 16, 2015.
A build-up of mud on the rural road may have contributed to the accident, leading Dr Janet Napier, assistant deputy coroner for Cheshire, to order an investigation.
Nissan driver Roy Gleave, from Runcorn, reacted quickly by applying the brakes to reduce his speed and swerved in trying to avoid the VW Polo but to no avail.
Mr Gleave and his wife were injured along with their 11-year-old granddaughter who suffered a broken collar bone. His wife in particular was badly hurt and spent six weeks in hospital including in an induced coma.
Helsby High sixth former Alex Tattersall, from Manley , a front seat passenger in the Polo, sadly died at Liverpool’s Walton Centre two days later due to traumatic brain injury and cervical spine fracture.
The Warrington inquest heard medical student Zoe, 22, who spent a night in hospital herself, was on her first day back from college in London for the Christmas break when the accident happened.
She wasn't speeding on the 60mph road. The corner could have been safely taken at 57mph and she was estimated to be travelling at 41mph.
Zoe, who sat next to her mum Debbie to give evidence at the inquest, recalled there was a Christmas CD playing in the car at the time but her memory of the collision was hazy. She remembered ‘seeing black’ and hearing ‘a lot of noise’.
But the inquest heard Zoe told an officer at the scene she was travelling about 50mph when she ‘lost control on the bend’ and ‘just carried straight on’ before colliding with the Micra.
The back of the Polo had started to rotate in a clockwise direction following a slight bend.
This was accentuated as the driver, in a typical response, overreacted in a bid to correct the slide. The cause of the initial over-steer remained unknown.
One possible explanation is that the rear offside tyre was found to be under-inflated. However, it was unclear whether this situation was present before the crash or whether it occurred as a result of the collision.
There was no evidence of associated tyre wear that would indicate the car had been driven around for any length of time on an under-inflated tyre. But the tyre could have deflated due to hitting a kerb, for example, prior to the accident.
Zoe was in the habit of checking her tyre pressures but had last done so before the summer when she went off to London leaving her car behind.
Likewise, there was no tyre damage sustained during the accident to give an obvious explanation for the low pressure but the tyre could nevertheless have been momentarily separated from the rim causing air to be expelled.
Another theory behind the loss of control concerns mud found on the road surface with a build-up in the centre of the lane.
The collision investigator found the grip was satisfactory in the tracks where the road wheels would normally travel but traction could have been lost had the wheels clipped the mud.
Alex’s father Adrian described Alex as his ‘beautiful daughter’ but was too upset to continue. His statement was read to the inquest.
Alex had been academically gifted having achieved several A*s in her GCSEs. From a young age she had learned to swim, passed ballet dance exams and played the piano. She excelled in maths and also social sciences.
She planned to go to university and wanted to join the police. She also had a strong sense of right and wrong and was ‘determined she wanted to make a difference’.
Alex had many school friends at Helsby High and ‘a loving boyfriend’.
She was interested in fashion and pop music, being ‘madly keen’ on Take That and Gary Barlow .
In line with her expressed wish in the event of her death, her organs were donated which had provided ‘some comfort’ to the family.
Dr Janet Napier, assistant deputy coroner for Cheshire, described the episode as ‘terribly tragic’.
She said Alex was ‘a very much cherished, talented, young lady on the threshold of life’. “Her loss is still keenly felt by her family and I’m sure by her friends and relatives,” said Dr Napier.
The coroner’s verdict was that Alex died of traumatic brain injury and cervical spine fracture due to a road traffic accident.
Dr Napier heard consideration was being given to reducing the speed limit on the road from 60 to 50mph.
She had also learned mud was a problem because of an exit from a farmer's field and an ad hoc lay-by. At the time of the accident the farmer had placed a warning about mud on the road but facing one direction only.
The coroner asked for Cheshire West and Chester Council to investigate what could be done to mitigate problems with mud on the road whether through proper signage, more frequent checking of the road or making the lay-by permanent to prevent mud being spread.