Lights could have saved couple - coroner

A MUCH admired couple who were pillars of their community would not have been killed near a level crossing if street lights had been installed, an inquest has heard.

Russell Claydon

A MUCH admired couple who were pillars of their community would not have been killed near a level crossing if street lights had been installed, a coroner has ruled.

Gerald and Henny McDonald's tragic deaths on the A12 at Darsham Railway Station could have been avoided if there had been better safety measures in the area, an inquest heard yesterday.

The elderly couple, from Gun Hill, Southwold, were killed on December 5, 2006 following a sightseeing trip to London.

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They had just come off at train at Darsham Station and were crossing the A12 to collect their car from the car park when they were hit by a Renault Clio.

Their unfortunate deaths rocked the local community - where they had become well-known for their involvement with championing local charities and causes since they moved there in 1992.

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Mr McDonald, 86, - known as Michael - died at the scene of the accident and his 84-year-old wife lost her life at Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge later that evening.

They had been married for 55 years and had led a “full and active life” until the end.

Recording a verdict of accidental death Greater Suffolk Coroner Dr Peter Dean told the inquest at Ipswich Crown Court: “Had this been daylight I am sure we would not be sitting here today.”

He later added: “Everything comes back to the theme throughout this inquest, which was the very, very poor lighting conditions in this area.

“This has certainly been an awful tragedy and hopefully the steps taken will minimise the chances of this happening again.”

Rod Sore, Suffolk County Council's safety engineering manager, told the court how following the accident an investigation had led to improvements at the crossing - which will be completed in the next month.

He outlined how street lighting is being installed over a 400m area to remove treacherous visibility for passengers and drivers as well as work to lower a high kerb used by commuters to cross over the A12.

But he also said that the obvious solution, moving the heavily used rail car park to the same side of the road as the station, could not be done due to the council not being able to compulsorily purchase land for a third party - Network Rail.

Their legal representative, Mr Starr, said the move will never get off the ground unless a willing vendor comes forward.

The inquest also heard from Sarah Block, a childminder from Leiston, about the terrifying moment that she hit the elderly couple.

Fighting back tears throughout her evidence Miss Block, who had only passed her driving test in October 2005, said: “As I came to the crossing they were just literally there in front of me.

“As soon as I saw them I braked but it was on the impact.”

Other eye witnesses told of the treacherous conditions presented to pedestrians and drivers in the area - with a three degree slope on the approach to the flat crossing meaning a shadow could have been cast that prevented drivers from possibly seeing someone walking across.

PC Jeff Cribb, the senior collision investigation officer on the case, confirmed this could have happened with Mr and Mrs McDonald.

His evidence also showed that Miss Block did grind her car to a halt in an emergency stop, but the braking had come too late.

He told of how she had passed a breathalyser test at the scene, was going under the 40mph speed limit at the time of the accident and that an investigation into her mobile phone had found there had been no activity while she was driving.

A meeting with the Crown Prosecution Service had determined there were not strong enough grounds to press ahead with a prosecution against her.

The family of Mr and Mrs McDonald declined to comment last night.

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