A teenage Army recruit from Belfast was killed when the car he was driving ploughed into a tree during a “display of youthful exuberance”, an inquest has heard.
Lee Smith (18) from the Shankill Road was killed instantly and his military pal Nicholas Bushell died in hospital following the single car collision on a country road close to their barracks in England.
The young Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME) had been out for an evening drive with two other friends from their regiment when the soldier lost control after performing a ‘fishtail’ stunt and careered off the road.
Fellow trainee soldier Alexander Seymour suffered life-threatening injuries and was left with memory loss while friend Rhys Lear walked away from the horror crash relatively unscathed.
An inquest into the death of Lee Smith and 17-year-old Nicholas Bushell heard that the four friends had recently completed their basic soldier training and had joined 10 Training Battalion at REME's Prince Philip Barracks in Bordon, Hants.
On June 15 this year they decided to go out for a drive in Mr Smith's Fiat Punto.
Loud music was playing and Mr Smith had begun “shaking” his steering wheel to make the car swerve when the hatchback careered off the 60mph limit country road into a tree.
Minutes later a passing motorist spotted the “mangled wreckage” of the vehicle in a ditch before dialling the emergency services. Scores of emergency service workers, including 15 firefighters, doctors and ambulance staff were tasked and began cutting the passengers from the car.
Medics pronounced Mr Smith dead at the scene while front seat passenger Mr Bushell, from Blackpool, was taken to hospital with life-threatening injuries. He never regained consciousness and died five days later.
Alexander (18), from Devon, was also taken to hospital with critical injuries, while fellow back seat passenger Rhys (17) suffered minor injuries.
Giving evidence at the inquest, Rhys, from Devon, said the friends went out driving at around 9pm.
“Loud music was playing and I was texting on my phone. Lee was just turning the wheel right to left and we were snaking down the road for about 50 metres. Then I came to in an ambulance.”
Police constable Andy McDonnell told the inquest that all four teenagers had been wearing their seatbelts and that they had been travelling at around 50mph when the car hit the tree. He put the crash down to driver error, claiming it could have been down to “a display of youthful exuberance”.
Recording a verdict of accidental deaths for both recruits, North East Hampshire Coroner Andrew Bradley, said: “Lee Smith may have been displaying some bravado or maybe having some fun, but in the course of that he clearly lost control.”