A FORMER Bulmershe student who died after being struck by a lorry in Reading earlier this year was not unlawfully killed, a coroner has ruled.
Lauren Nicole Heath, 20, died after being hit by the lorry in Basingstoke Road, Reading, on April 13. Her baby daughter Millie suffered minor head injuries in the incident but has since physically recovered.
At an inquest into her death, held at Reading Town Hall on Wednesday (31), Miss Heath’s family called for a verdict of unlawful killing after they discovered that the positioning of the mirrors on the lorry that John Rosa was driving created a blind spot at the front of his vehicle, meaning he could not see Miss Heath or the buggy she was pushing.
Giving evidence at the inquest, Mr Rosa said that he was the sole user of the articulated lorry and that he always positioned his mirrors in the way they had been found following the collision, which happened shortly after noon at a busy junction.
Investigating officer Tony Reading, of Thames Valley Police, told the inquest that a thorough investigation by the Roads Policing Unit, a collaborated unit between Hampshire Constabulary and Thames Valley Police, involving a reconstruction using a police officer of a similar height to Miss Heath, found that Mr Rosa’s mirrors were correctly positioned and that a blind spot, directly in front of where the driver would be sitting, would be inevitable.
The inquest, which was attended by dozens of Miss Heath’s family and friends, heard how the young mum, who lived in Blagdon Road, Reading, was due to meet her friend Nicole Mitchell.
Ms Mitchell, who also has a young daughter, was waiting for Miss Heath near Morrison’s supermarket when she witnessed the tragedy unfold.
She said in a statement that the crossing was not one that the friends would usually use to get across the road, and that she would often have to tell her friend to wait for the green man to illuminate, rather than risk the lights changing.
Ms Mitchell said that she saw her friend approaching the crossing with the pushchair, and that she was walking quickly but not running. She was wearing an earphone in her left ear but wasn’t looking at her mobile phone. Other witnesses said that Miss Heath had not stopped at the crossing, and while she was walking across the road the lights to the traffic had turned to green.
Mr Rosa explained to the inquest at great length how he had checked the six mirrors attached to his vehicle when the traffic lights turned from red, to red and amber, and then to green, glancing into them in an arc formation from right to left. He said that at no point did he see any pedestrians either through his window or in the mirrors, and pulled away smoothly. He travelled around 10 to 15 metres before he heard a scream from the right side of his vehicle, and came to a controlled stop.
Witness Robert Lynch, who was on a driving lesson with his instructor Joanna Watson, said he saw Miss Heath cross in front of his car in the left hand lane of the junction before disappearing in front of the lorry.
Ms Watson told the court she assumed the woman had made it to the other side, before hearing the scream, noticing the lorry bounce up and down and come to a stop. She said her student made his left turn, and she looked behind her right shoulder to see the young woman lying underneath the trailer, and called the emergency services.
Another driver, Michael Mace, was travelling in the opposite direction and caught the incident on his forward facing dashboard camera. The footage showed Miss Heath walking in front of the lorry as it began to pull away, but from the angle of Mr Mace’s car her exact distance from the front of the lorry could not be seen. Footage from another driver’s dash cam confirmed that the lorry had pulled away on the green light and not before.
A rapid response vehicle and two ambulance crews were deployed to the scene. Paramedic Christopher Davidson, who was the second on the scene, described Miss Heath’s injuries as being ‘catastrophic’ and ‘incompatible with life’ and she was declared dead at the scene a short time later. Her baby was taken to the Royal Berkshire Hospital with minor head injuries but was later discharged.
A post-mortem investigation by Dr Sukvinder Ghataura at the Royal Berkshire Hospital found Miss Heath’s injuries to be consistent with a road traffic collision, recording the cause of death as being a traumatic blunt head injury.
The coroner, Peter Bedford concluded that Miss Heath died as a result of a road traffic collision, but that factors such as the positioning of the lorry’s mirrors and the fact that she did not press the button at the crossing, contributed to her tragic death.
Shantala Heath, acting as a representative of Miss Heath’s parents David Heath and Sherrie Gregory, said after the inquest: “This is a very emotional time for Lauren’s family. They are deeply disappointed by the result of the report, and have lodged a complaint with the Roads Policing Unit of Hampshire Police.
“The family was not formally told in writing that the Crown Prosecution Service was not pursuing a criminal investigation, and rather heard this information through word-of-mouth.
“The family is also appealing against the decision made by the police not to use a pushchair when reconstructing the incident, as they strongly believe that this would have affected how Lauren would have appeared in the mirrors.”
- A PREVIOUS version of this article suggested that Nicole Mitchell met Lauren Heath while a student at Bulmershe School. This was not the case and we apologise for any confusion caused.