Soldier died after swerving to avoid potholes


A soldier who served in Afghanistan died after he swerved his bike on a British road to avoid a trench of potholes the council deemed were ”not a priority”, an inquest heard today.

Tragic Captain Jonathan Allen, 29, suffered ”major cranial damage” after he cycled into the path of an articulated lorry which was passing him as he tried to dodge the potholes.

Cpt Allen, of the 1st Battalion Royal Fusiliers, did not see the series of waterlogged craters – which covered 30ft – on the A338 near Tidworth, Wilts., until the last minute.

Lorry driver Stephen Wall, 55, who was returning to a depot in Droitwich, Worcs., at 7:15pm on March 24th 2010, could do nothing as Cpt Allen crashed under the wheels of the HGV.

Cpt Allen died at the scene of the accident.

Council workmen filled in the series of deep potholes just 36 hours after the tragedy.

An inquest in Salisbury, Wilts., today heard that the damaged length of road had been reported to the council almost one month earlier by John Couling.

In a statement read to the court Mr Couling said his wife Patricia reported her ”wheel nearly falling off” when she drove the stretch of road on February 28th.

He said: ”She described it as so big that when she hit it she thought the wheel was going to fall off. When it rains water collects in this area and hides the potholes.”

But when the council inspected the ”defect” it did not meet the criteria for immediate repair.

Peter Hanson, the eastern area divisional highway manager for Wiltshire Council, told the inquest that for road damage to be repaired within 24 hours it must be more than 75mm deep and 300mm in width.

Potholes repaired within seven days must be between 40 and 75mm deep and more than 200mm in width.

He told the inquest the pothole was only 35mm deep, with a 55mm depression to the right hand side when measured the day after the accident. It was, however, repaired within the next two days.

But he refused to comment when asked if he thought the trench presented an ”obvious risk” for cyclists.

Cpt Allen was cycling from Mooltan Barracks in Tidworth, Wilts., to his home in nearby Burbage, when he approached the damaged section of road just past Leckford Crossing on the A338.

His girlfriend Rosanna Curling told the inquest that he was very fit and regularly cycled from home in Burbage, Wilts., to work, but ”hated it because it was so dangerous”.

Lorry driver Mr Wall, who works for Robert Wiseman Dairy, told how he saw Cpt Allen’s reflective cycling clothing and red-flashing light on the back of his bike as he approached from behind.

Mr Wall pulled out into the oncoming lane at 38mph to pass Cpt Allen when the soldier ”suddenly” turned to look at him before falling under the lorry.

He said: ”As I started to move out I was a good distance away, about 100m. I moved out so the near side wheels of my unit and trailer were on the center line markings or thereabouts.

”I believe I gave him more than adequate room to pass him safely.

”There were no distractions. He seemed not to react at all to my approach. He suddenly turned his head to the right and looked directly at the cab.

”I was quite startled by this – he had a look of surprise on his face and seemed surprised to actually see me there. I made eye contact with him.

”As the cyclist turned to look at me he began to fall to the right hand side.

”He then went out of my view and I thought he was going to hit me. I braked fast and then felt a bump. All of this happened in a second, literally.”

Mr Wall first saw a bicycle and cycling helmet laying on the road before he spotted Cpt Allen’s body under the lorry.

He knew that Cpt Allen had sustained a ”massive head injury” and was ”obviously deceased”.

Mr Wall said: ”Whilst I was waiting for the emergency services I noticed on the nearside but extending out into the road by about one metre and about 20m in length an area of potholes of varying depths. It started about halfway down the trailer and went towards Tidworth.

”As I was waiting for the emergency services I began to think that the potholes were the reason the cyclist had looked behind and swerved out. I can’t think of any other reason for it it seems too much of a coincidence.”

In her statement Ms Curling added how she believed the roads of Wiltshire were in great disrepair, and that ”if anything could come of this tragedy I would like to see efforts made to improve the roads of Wiltshire.”

The inquest continues.


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