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Schoolgirl killed in bike crash 'died doing something she loved'

The 14-year-old was killed at a dangerous junction in Cornwall

A 14-year-old schoolgirl who was killed while out cycling with her mother 'died doing something she loved', an inquest heard. 

Caitlin Swan was riding her bike down a hill near Stithians in Cornwall when she crashed into the back of a van and was 'flung' into the path of an oncoming vehicle.

The inquest at New County Hall, Truro, heard the keen amateur cyclist had been 'laughing' and teasing her mum about eating 'too many mince pies' shortly before the collision.

Victoria Swan, told the inquest that she and her daughter had only decided to go for a ride the night before.

According to the Falmouth Packet, the pair checked their bikes before leaving and were regular riders.

Ms Swan told the hearing her daughter had got into road cycling a couple of years ago but had been mountain biking since she was little. 

Caitlin, who was a keen scuba diver and hockey player, was also saving up to go on a trip to America with her twin sister Lamorna, the court heard.

Ms Swan, a police officer, said that she would often cycle 40 or 50 miles with her daughter on the roads around their home. 

On the day of the incident, 28 December 2019, the pair had set off from Truro along the back roads through Kea and Devoran on their way to Stithians. 

Ms Swan said at one point, when she was 'huffing and puffing' up a hill, her daughter teased her, saying 'Come on mum, you shouldn't have had all those mince pies.'

They stopped at Stithians for a break at around 1pm and then started to ride down Tubbon Hill.

As they descended, Caitlin moved in front of her mother by about 20 feet and got down on the drops. 

Ms Swan told the court: "I could see a white van was turning left, I could see Caitlin's body language change.

"I could see that she was slowing down, the arc of her back push back.

"I could see her thinking 'I'm going down a hill I'm all tucked up I'm fine'."

However, the inquest heard that rather than turning quickly the van was 'practically stationary' because of the 'acute' angle of the turn.

Ms Swan continued: "Caitlin got a 'wobble' on. She would have seen the van turning left in front of her as she was coming down.

"I could see she was slowing down but she got a wobble on, whether she skidded slightly I don't know, but she got wobble on and it is very difficult to get out of a wobble." 

Caitlin hit the back of the white VW van and was flung into the path of an oncoming vehicle being driving by a courier and suffered 'unsurvivable injuries'.

Caitlin's cycling helmet 'exploded into fragments' when she was hit, a witness said.

Despite paramedic's best efforts, the Penair School pupil was pronounced dead at the scene. 

Ms Swan, who witnessed the whole incident, said her daughter 'never stood a chance'.

She added: "Just before the crash we were laughing. She died doing something she loved."

Assistant Coroner Stephen Covell said computer recordings showed Caitlin was averaging 35-36 mph going down the hill but had slowed to around 12mph before the impact.

He added: "[Any vehicle] taking that left hand turn has to slow down significantly in order to be able to take the turning.

"If there is no other vehicle approaching you can swing out into the opposite lane to turn, but if there is you have to turn very, very slowly...

""All these events were seen by Caitlin's mother and I cannot imagine seeing those events unfolding to one of my children."

Recording a conclusion of road traffic collision, the coroner said he had concerns that there were no warning signs on the approach to junction

He said action should be taken by Cornwall Highways on how that risk of death can be reduced and he will make a report and invite them to take appropriate action.

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Captain Badger | 3 years ago
1 like

My deepest condolences to the bereaved

On a journalistic note, is this an appropriate headline? This isn't an obituary, it is a report on the inquest into a teenage girl's death at the hands of a negligent driver.

This wasn't an unavoidable tragedy. She wasn't mountaineering and then got caught out by freak weather. She was doing a normal day-to-day activity where the greatest risk is that of other peoples' negligence.


richliv | 3 years ago

Really awful. From the description, sounds like she was just too late slowing down the hill to be able to avoid the van. Could happen to anyone.

Projectcyclingf... | 3 years ago

Such a cruel thing to happen to a family loving human powered travel.
There's nearly always a motorist/s involved and responsible for contributing to the deadly collision.
Critically, why was only the speed of the poor victim investigated and NOT for the other courier van driver, who inflicted the final deadly blow?
Courier van drivers, and alike, are notoriously known to speed ('fly' as anti-cylists describe cyclists accept when they're 'slow & holding up traffic') and drive recklessly and dangerously to meet their targets at any cost to vulnerable groups around them.

AlsoSomniloquism replied to Projectcyclingfitness | 3 years ago

Probably because the GPS unit records all speed if activated and vehicles only record current speed and at a point in time? Whether motor vehicles should record all speeds for the last hour is obviously another argument (and one I would would be for). 

Neither the mother or the Police or the witness have mentioned any concerns or problems with the Courier van and it is literally just the case of a sequence of events that all happened at the wrong time and 1 minute either side wouldn't have been an issue. 

NPlus1Bikelights | 3 years ago
1 like

As someone teaching a 7 and 5 year old about door zones, buses and taxis at the moment.

brooksby | 3 years ago

If the coroner has made a report to the council, does that mean they'll now have to actually do something to mitigate the risk at the junction? Bit late, but still...

Philh68 replied to brooksby | 3 years ago
1 like

The coroner may make recommendations, but it's ultimately the responsibility of individual road users to drive/ride to the conditions and circumstances (risk perception). Council response may be nothing more than signs warning of the intersection on approach. To me it looks like a road where you need to take a defensive approach at all times, given the number of obscured driveways and poor sight lines typical of a rural locale.

ktache | 3 years ago

My thoughts are very much with the family and friends of Caitlin Swan.

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