Coroner says death of cyclist killed as he avoided pothole "accidental"

Inquest hears that local council knew of pothole before army officer's fatal collision with lorry

by Simon_MacMichael   August 7, 2010 news

A coroner’s inquest has decided that the death of army captain Jonathan Allen, who was killed in March this year after being struck by a lorry as he apparently tried to avoid a massive pothole filled with water on a road in Wiltshire, was accidental, reports the Wiltshire Gazette & Herald.

The hearing, in Salisbury, heard a statement from the 29-year-old victim’s girlfriend, Kathleen Curling, in which she described how she had come across the scene of the accident after driving along the route Captain Allen would have taken home to Burbage from his work at Tidworth Barracks because she was worried about his being late home. A police officer at the scene told her about the accident.

She said that Captain Allen, of the 1st Battalion the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, who died from serious head injuries sustained in the crash, had started using his bike to commute to and from work to keep fit but hated cycling, which he considered dangerous because of the potholes that had appeared on the road during the winter.

Ms Curling added: "The roads in Wiltshire are worse than in neighbouring counties."

Lorry driver Stephen Wall, who has 35 years’ experience and had worked since 2001 for Robert Wiseman Dairies, said in a statement read out to the inquest that Captain Allen seemed to fall into his path as his vehicle overtook the cyclist on the A338 between Tidworth and Collingbourne Ducis.

He said that it was dark and raining heavily when he noticed Captain Allen’s rear light, and signaled to overtake him, but as he started to pull out, the officer turned to look over his shoulder.

"We made eye contact and he seemed to be surprised to see me there,” said Mr Wall. “Then he appeared to be falling sideways. I lost sight of him and then felt a bump."

The inquest also heard that the pothole had been reported to Wiltshire County Council’s hotline on 2nd March, three weeks before the accident, but divisional highways manager Peter Hanson said it was not big enough to be treated as a priority.

The road had also been inspected a week prior to the fatal crash, however council officers decided the pothole did not need to be repaired immediately.

It was eventually filled in just two days after Captain Allen’s death.

Another witness who gave evidence to the inquest was PC James Trafford from the serious collision investigation team, who was present at the scene within 20 minutes of the accident, and then returned during daylight hours.

He told the inquest that repairs had been made to the area where the pothole was located but they had deteriorated resulting in a 6cm hole at its deepest point, made worse by the fact that a nearby drain had become blocked, causing a pool of water to form.

With Captain Allen cycling at a speed of around 20mph, PC Trafford said that in his estimation he would have had only around two seconds to react after seeing the pool of water, and that a skid mark on the road suggested that the cyclist had tried to take evasive action.

Although he was unable to determine whether Captain Allen had hit the pothole or fallen off his bike beforehand, he confirmed that the army officer would have been on the ground when the lorry hit him, adding that both the bicycle and the lorry were in perfect mechanical order.

Returning a verdict of accidental death, Wiltshire assistant deputy coroner Ian Singleton commented: "Captain Allen would have had insufficient time to take evasive action and there was nothing the lorry driver could do to avoid the collision."

11 user comments

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IS THERE ANY POSSIBILITY that the Council could be guilty of neglect?
Oh the country is in a financial crisis? WELL how much taxpayer money is used training a soldier to the rank of Captain? Could have been anyone but you and i the taxpayer are saved pennies when councils behave like this one , the inspector of the hole really needs to learn that "Loafing on the job has consequences"!
How would he feel if it had been his family using this road?

Skippy(advocate for "Disabled / Para Sport")@skippydetour. blogging as skippi-cyclist.blogspot & Parrabuddy.blogspot currently on the road with ProTour Grand Tour Events .

skippy's picture

posted by skippy [406 posts]
7th August 2010 - 12:45


>>Returning a verdict of accidental death, [the] coroner commented: " ... there was nothing the lorry driver could do to avoid the collision." << How about driving more slowly - especially as it was raining and it was dark? This is just another example of blame the victim, dressed up in accidental death. Cyclists are too often regarded as not belonging on the roads and if we are in the way of motorised traffic and are hit it's taken to be our own fault.

--- --- \_ \¬
------ (+) / (+)______ better by bike!

Mike McBeth's picture

posted by Mike McBeth [73 posts]
7th August 2010 - 12:58


and if the cyclist "falls" into his path how much time
does the driver have ? he could be doing 10mph and still
be unable to miss the rider !

sometimes an accident is just that - a tragic accident.

still on the 3rd switch-back of Bwlch !

posted by therevokid [917 posts]
7th August 2010 - 13:15


But we may never know the full details as there were, unfortunately, no witnesses!

TiNuts's picture

posted by TiNuts [97 posts]
7th August 2010 - 13:20


>>and if the cyclist "falls" into his path how much time
does the driver have ? he could be doing 10mph and still
be unable to miss the rider !<<

Evidence suggests that being hit by a vehicle travelling at sub 25 mph is likely to result in injury rather than death. So slower speeds mean fewer deaths on the roads. Many drivers don't alter their speeds to suit the prevailing conditions and get away with travelling at excessive speeds . I'm deeply alarmed by the reduction in funding for roadside speed cameras under our ConDem coalition gvt.

--- --- \_ \¬
------ (+) / (+)______ better by bike!

Mike McBeth's picture

posted by Mike McBeth [73 posts]
7th August 2010 - 14:11


The council was at fault for not repairing the pothole. I reckon the coroner has made a wrong decision. The truck driver should have been more aware, however with no witnesses, the extent of the driver's blame cannot be ascertained. However it is clear that the coroner has saved the council a lot of money on damages.


posted by OldRidgeback [2535 posts]
7th August 2010 - 20:29


["Evidence suggests that being hit by a vehicle travelling at sub 25 mph is likely to result in injury rather than death."]

Sadly only true for smaller vehicles - if a truck rolls over you it doesn't matter very much how fast it's going.

Buddha said:

Believe nothing, No matter where you read it,
Or who has said it, Not even if I have said it,
Unless it agrees with your own reason
And your own common sense.

mad_scot_rider's picture

posted by mad_scot_rider [580 posts]
7th August 2010 - 20:46


Yes, Wiltshire County Council should shoulder a lot of the blame for this. And potholes in general are one of the many things that are in dire need of addressing because they were neglected in the boom years, but are even less likely to be fixed now we've given all our money to the banks and to fight illegal wars. But let's not forget which element in this situation - bike, pothole, lorry - actually took a man's life.

On the day of the incident he had driven a load of cream and milk to the depot at Solstice Park, Amesbury, and was returning with an empty lorry to the depot at Droitwich in the West Midlands.

Remember this, the next time a lorry driver is breathing down your neck, indicating his impatience by revving his engine (although there is no evidence to say whether that was the case in this incident) that he too could be pointlessly transporting dairy products to rural Wiltshire, or coals to Newcastle, or some other activity the swiftness of which is entirely not your concern. The A338 is a terrible road. Narrow, ill-maintained, with stretches of several miles marked with double solid white lines, yet heavily used by goods traffic that doesn't want to pay the petrol and manpower costs of the extra 30 miles to take the dual carriageway route via the A303, A34 and M4. To be safe on such a road, you have to ride almost in the middle of the lane and have absolutely no qualms about holding up traffic behind you for miles. You are not the jerk in such a situation, the accountant whose decisions put the lorry on that road, by failing to include the full costs in his calculations is the jerk. But there is nothing illegal about that, so as long as coroners keep recording verdicts of "accidental" death, they'll never have to, and we'll all be able to enjoy cheap cream and milk products. Not all lorries can or should be taken off the roads, but we should be minimising the number, for this and a whole load of other good reasons that in a civilised society would count for more than haulage firm profits.

posted by handlebarcam [545 posts]
9th August 2010 - 9:26


therevokid wrote:
and if the cyclist "falls" into his path how much time
does the driver have ? he could be doing 10mph and still
be unable to miss the rider !

sometimes an accident is just that - a tragic accident.

In this instance the road was wide enough for the truck to move into the other lane to pass, if the rider 'fell' during the overtake then the truck should have still missed him. Id like to know if the location of the rider during the collision was considered in reference to the location of the truck. Ive fallen from my road bike before and generally if your travleling forward you dont tend to slide much outside of the width of your shoulders (ie. striaght down).

As for the comment 'he could be doing 10mph and still be unable to miss the rider' well isnt that what appropriate gaps and stopping distances are for? or is tailgating or whatever its called acceptable to do to cyclists?

STATO's picture

posted by STATO [454 posts]
9th August 2010 - 10:48


Angry Correct me if I'm wrong but I understood by law a motorist must give a 2mtr gap when passing a cyclist to allow for the wobble factor.
Pancho Pete

posted by millook [10 posts]
13th August 2010 - 21:06


Unfortunately that is not the case. There is a permissive suggestion in The Highway Code, but sadly unlike France where cyclists are treated with far greater respect, it is not obligatory to give a specified amount of room in the UK. Hence the abundance of horrific incidents as above and motorists able to say, "Sorry but the cyclist swerved", etc, etc because the onus is not on them to avoid hitting a cyclist, contrary to Holland where I understand the motorist is always held accountable. Maybe some of them should have a go at riding on two wheels with a largely unaccountable, steering wheel wielding maniac approaching from the rear and see how straight a line they can hold, particularly with the sorry state of our roads.
Drivers really should take into account "wobble factor", sadly "should" and "do" are quite different words.

whizz kid

posted by whizzkid [76 posts]
14th September 2010 - 13:36