A police officer has told a coroner’s inquest into the death of a cyclist in Essex who was hit from behind by a driver travelling at an estimated speed of at least 60 miles an hour and was then run over by another motorist that he would not have been visible to them.
Chelmsford Coroner’s Court also heard that a post mortem found that Declan Shea, aged 31, was almost twice over the limit for drink-driving and also had a mixture of prescription and illegal drugs in his system, which led the police officer to speculate that it may have affected his decision to ride along the unlit road, reports the Daily Gazette.
Mr Shea was wearing dark clothing as he cycled along Harwich Road, Elmstead just after 8pm on the evening of 16 September last year when he was struck from behind by a Mercedes driven by 71-year-old Terence Smith.
The impact flung him onto the roof of the vehicle and onto the opposite side of the road, where he was subsequently hit by a Nissan Juke being driven in the opposite direction
Collision investigator PC Kat Burke, who examined his bicycle afterwards, said that tests suggested that neither the front nor rear light was switched on at the time, meaning the only illumination came from the reflectors on his pedals.
PC Burke told the inquest that the collision occurred on a “sweeping bend” at around 50 minutes after sunset, and that Mr Shea was “dressed in dark coloured clothing and not wearing a cycle helmet [It’s worth noting that no cycle helmet manufacturer would claim to offer protection against being hit at 60mph – ed]
“The section of road where the incident occurred was very dark, with no street lights present and no ambient light available,” she said.
Describing how the cyclist was thrown against the windscreen of the car and then onto the roof, she said that “Mr Shea’s movement over the roof suggests the Mercedes was not braking at the time of impact.”
She estimated the speed of the Mercedes at between 60 and 70mph, and as for the driver of the Nissan Juke, who was travelling at 40mph, she said that “With no physical movement, Mr Shea would have been difficult to identify.”
PC Burke, accompanied by a colleague, carried out a re-enactment of the circumstances surrounding the fatal crash, in similar conditions and at the same time in the evening.
She drove behind her fellow officer, who was dressed in dark clothing and had similar reflectors on his bike to those that Mr Shea had.
“Even though I knew the PC was there, I found it very hard to identify him,” she said. “I couldn’t see him or the bike, all I could see were the yellow flashes from the reflectors. I also had that prior warning.
“It made the PC and the bike itself completely indistinguishable on dipped beam headlights.”
Mr Shea was found to have 154mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood in his system as well as drugs including cocaine and methadone.
PC Burke added: “Mr Smith had little advanced warning of his presence on the carriageway.
“Mr Shea had a level of alcohol and prescribed and illegal drugs in his system and it is possible this affected his decision.”
Senior coroner Caroline Beasley-Murray concluded that Mr Shea died as a result of a road traffic collision.
Smith, who left the scene and returned later in a different car with his son, did not face charges in connection with the collision itself nor his failure to stop.
He was however given a suspended jail sentence in October this year after pleading guilty to dangerous driving in relation to the condition his car was in as he drove it home after the fatal crash.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.