Mystery surrounds the final moments of a much-loved Chester woman who was tragically killed on the A55.
An inquest into the death of ‘devoted’ mum-of-three Barbara Dunbavand established she was hit by a DAF tanker lorry on the road’s westbound carriageway on December 10 last year as she made her way to work.
But exactly why she came to be a pedestrian on the carriageway remains unclear.
The 53-year-old chartered accountant, of Little Heath Road, Christleton, had a busy job at local accountancy firm Hall Livesey Brown that contained some minor stresses, but otherwise lived a happy family life and was looking forward to the upcoming Christmas period.
She had been bothered by some neck pain and a tingling in her arm which kept her awake at night in the months leading up to her death, but her family doctor reported that Mrs Dunbavand was on no medication and had no underlying health issues.
During the inquest at Warrington Coroner’s Court, her husband Dr Andrew Dunbavand, a GP at Chester’s City Walls Medical Centre, said she was slightly worried about some upcoming meetings at work but generally her mood approaching Christmas was a good one.
The night before her death she sat down to watch some of her favourite TV shows with a glass of wine and her husband and son. She had left an envelope containing petrol money for her other son who was due to return to university.
Thursday, December 10 was a ‘normal family morning’, her husband told the inquest, and when she woke up, Mrs Dunbavand commented to her husband how dark it was outside. She left the home shortly before 7.30am to take her usual route using the bypass at Littleton.
Grinding noise from car
Her car, a Toyota Corolla, had recently been serviced with no problems. However, when her husband later picked up her car after the accident, he noticed a ‘grinding’ noise, although nothing had been flagged up as wrong with the car by police officers or vehicle inspectors.
Witness Carl Shellbourne was also using the A55 on his way to work that day just before 7.30am when he spotted a vehicle parked with no lights on in a layby just past the A51 facing the direction of North Wales.
The darkness and rain made driving conditions ‘terrible’, he said, but he remembered thinking it was odd that a car would be parked in the layby so close to the carriageway. He then noticed a person standing near the vehicle who appeared to be focusing intently on something on the carriageway.
“I was in the outside lane and noticed a tanker on my inside. So I accelerated away to allow more space and I could see the tanker driver move out through my mirror,” Mr Shellbourne told the inquest.
Wet, horrible morning
“It was such a wet, horrible morning. I’m convinced the person I saw was focused on something on the carriageway and I wondered if it might be a child she had seen. Then I saw her start to move towards the carriageway and I just thought ‘stop’.
“To me, there was a definite focus but I could not see what that was. I assumed she would have realised how close she was to the carriageway and stopped. It was not until later that I read what had happened,” he added.
Simon Mumford, who was driving the tanker, also gave evidence at the inquest and admitted the incident had left him in so much shock he had limited recollection of what happened.
“As I was driving, I became aware of a vehicle parked in the layby with no lights or hazards on,” he said. “Then I saw a person come from round the passenger side heading into the carriageway and all I could think of was trying to give them as much space as physically possible without me hitting another vehicle.”
Sheer bad luck
Mr Mumford applied his brakes seconds before the collision and attempted to move the vehicle to the right in order to avoid a collision. Later investigations and footage from a dashcam inside his vehicle showed that Mr Mumford had done everything he could to avoid hitting Mrs Dunbavand, but tragically ended up doing so by ‘sheer bad luck’, said coroner Nicholas Rheinberg.
“I did consider returning an open verdict here but I do not think it necessary in this case,” he said. “There are two interpretations possible as to how Mrs Dunbavand came to be on the carriageway as a pedestrian. One is that it is entirely possible she had noticed a noise in her car similar to the one her husband later heard when he went to pick up her car and pulled into the layby to investigate, regrettably parking rather close to the carriageway.
“Although nothing was found on the car that may have led her to stop, it may be that after disengaging the bonnet latch she tried to investigate a noise and perhaps in a daydream or a moment of absentmindedness in concentrating on getting back to her car, walked into the path of the lorry,” he said.
“The other possibility is that, as Mrs Dunbavand was seen staring into the road, she could have deliberately walked into the path of the lorry. although this would make no sense as there was nothing that gave anyone a warning that such an action was being contemplated.”
He added: “My formal findings are that she died of 1a multiple injuries, received when she was struck by a lorry travelling westbound. The evidence we have heard does not sufficiently disclose whether it was a deliberate act or just inadvertance.”
In a statement given by Mrs Dunbavand’s family shortly after her death, they described her as ‘much loved’, a ‘dear friend to many’ and an enthusiastic contributor to the local community.
One tribute to her read: “You touched so many lives, we will miss you so much.”