Coroner rules mystery death crash was an accident

Reporter:

Andrew Boyd

THE father of a baby girl was two times  the drink-drive limit and was not wearing a seatbelt when he died after crashing his car.

Dean Pugh, 38, was found dead with severe head injuries on the morning of Wednesday, March 1, as he lay behind the wheel of his newly-bought car in a ditch off the A5 between Halton and Gledrid roundabouts.

An inquest in Flint heard Mr Pugh’s vehicle had been in the ditch since the previous night when he been returning from St Martins to his home in School Lane, Southsea, Wrexham.

Mystery had surrounded what caused Mr Pugh to crash into the embankment little more than three miles into his journey, with no witnesses to confirm if he had fallen asleep.

Mr Pugh, who worked as a sheet metal worker at Hawarden Sheeters, had become a father for the first time little more than a year before his death when partner Sarah Rathbone gave birth to baby daughter Holly.

Yesterday’s inquest was told Mr Pugh had travelled to St Martins the previous evening to visit best friend Steve Hopwood.

Miss Rathbone, who had been in a relationship with Mr Pugh for two years, went to bed at about 10pm. After 11pm she received a text from Mr Hopwood saying Mr Pugh was on his way home.

When she later woke up and found Mr Pugh had not returned, she tried phoning and texting him through the night but did not get a response

She said: “I was a little bit worried but I thought he’d gone to his dad’s or somewhere else.”

The next day Miss Rathbone was informed by police of her partner’s death.

In the weeks before he died Mr Pugh had been suspended by his employers, but
Miss Rathbone said the matter had been resolved and he was back at work.

Asked by North East Wales deputy coroner John Gittins if she had known Mr Pugh to drive home after having a drink, Miss Rathbone said that on occasions he had.

Mr Pugh’s mother, Susan Jones, described her son as a very careful driver, particularly after Holly’s birth. She had never known him to have an accident, exceed the speed limit or to have been drinking when she was in the car with him.

Mr Hopwood said he was close to Mr Pugh and he looked upon him as like a brother. He was not aware of his friend having been drinking before he arrived on February 28 and he did not drink any alcohol while in his house.

About a week before his death, Mr Pugh bought a Peugeot 206 and had spent time carrying out work on the car.

Witness Catherine Stevens said she saw a car down the embankment as she headed to work shortly before 9am on March 1 and reported it to police. When she returned later in the day the road was closed.

Another witness was Richard Roberts, who had allotments close to where the vehicle went down the embankment. After spotting the car, he looked through the window and found the Peugeot was heavily damaged with Mr Pugh “obviously dead”.

Home Office pathologist Dr Brian Rodgers, who conducted a post-mortem examination, said Mr Pugh had suffered extensive haemorrhaging and his skull was completely shattered.

Mr Pugh’s body temperature indicated the collision had occurred either late the previous night or early on March 1.

Dr Rodgers said the level of alcohol in Mr Pugh’s blood and urine indicated he was more than twice the legal driving limit.

Kenneth Stone, a police forensic vehicle examiner, said the vehicle showed no mechanical defects and was well maintained but there was evidence the driver’s seatbelt had not been in use.

PC George Skinner said the road had been resurfaced shortly before the collision and was in good condition. He found three tyre tracks on the road close to the embankment.

PC Skinner said there was no evidence Mr Pugh had suddenly swerved to avoid another vehicle, pedestrian or animal, having made a shallow departure from the road.

“Had he been restrained the actual impact on the car was survivable. There had not been intrusion sufficient to cause him these injuries.”

PC Skinner added there was no indication the speed limit was exceeded, but concluded the alcohol in his system had to be a contributory factor.

Recording a verdict of accidental death, Mr Gittins said Mr Pugh had died after sustaining severe blunt force head injuries.

He said the evidence did not indicate the reasons for him coming off the road: “Whether it was the alcohol in his system or him suddenly falling asleep we will never know.”

Mr Gittins said the injuries were exacerbated by Mr Pugh not wearing a seatbelt and urged everyone to make sure they complied with the law on the matter.

He said “It’s a lesson to us. We must all remember what the law requests us to do and we must all wear our seatbelts when in a motor vehicle.”

See full story in the Leader

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