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Cyclist's crash death 'accidental'

An elite cyclist suffered fatal injuries when he careered into an oncoming car while taking part in a popular road race, an inquest has heard.

Junior Heffernan, 23, died on the third lap of 10 in the 41st Severn Bridge Road Race, a six-mile (10km) course around Olveston in Gloucestershire.

Mr Heffernan, known as The Heff, veered on to the wrong side of the road as he raced down a steep hill into the village of Elberton with 50 other riders.

Moments later, a grey BMW slowly came round an upcoming bend in the road, Avon Coroner's Court was told.

Mr Heffernan, who was unable to rejoin the correct side of the road because it was packed with other cyclists, attempted to ride around the vehicle.

But the front wheel of his custom-made bike struck the BMW, throwing the talented cyclist and triathlete on to the windscreen.

The inquest heard that Mr Heffernan had reached speeds of 46.5mph (74.8kph) on the road, which has a speed limit of 40mph (64.4kph), seconds before the collision occurred.

Terence Moore, Assistant Coroner for Avon, reached a conclusion of "accidental death" during the one-day hearing in Flax Bourton, Somerset.

"On approaching the left-hand bend at the bottom of this decline, the lead riders began to slow slightly," Mr Moore said.

"It is fairly obvious to me that they might slow because of a bend or because there is a BMW approaching.

"The effect of these lead riders slowing is a knock-on effect, compressing the peloton. With that compression, Junior and another rider were moved out into the right-hand lane.

"Junior's line of sight in approach of that bend would have been obscured by the rider in front of him.

"He saw the car at the last moment and, realising he couldn't pull on to the left, he tried to veer to the right quite deliberately to try to avoid a collision."

Mr Heffernan, a member of the Herbalife-Leisure Lakes team, was one of 80 riders to take part in the Severn Bridge Road Race on March 3 2013.

The event, which has been running since the 1960s, is hotly anticipated as it is the first road race of the season.

Roads are not closed to other traffic during the race but the cyclists are positioned behind motorbikes and vans, which warn drivers of their presence.

Richard Jarrold, of Bristol Road Club, which promotes the race, was watching the riders complete their third lap of the course.

"The riders came down the hill," Mr Jarrold told the inquest. "They flashed by me. I looked right and probably a split second later they went round this small bend.

"The car came round the corner and it was head-on. It was just a glimpse but it is still sealed into my mind."

Mr Jarrold, who was around 55 yards (50m) away from the crash, heard the bike hit the vehicle and called 999.

He told the inquest that full risk assessments had been carried out, the weather was fine and the road surface approaching the collision site was "reasonable".

Organiser Brian O'Kelly said a pre-race briefing had been given to all riders in the event, which began at 12pm.

"The advice is you don't cross the road, you stay on the left-hand side of the road, but it is a race - that doesn't always occur," Mr O'Kelly said.

He described the decline where Mr Heffernan collided with the car as "a very fast descent".

Neil Taylor, team manager for the Herbalife-Leisure Lakes team, said he believed Mr Heffernan had been pushed on to the wrong side of the road during the descent.

"In my opinion, as the cyclists came round, riders had been pushed out and Heffernan was one of those riders," he told the inquest.

"I think he tried to go round the car. He tried to get out of it."

Grant Bayton, a rider in the race, said the peloton had been racing in excess of 40mph (64.4kph) before the collision.

"Junior was to the right of me, he was on the other side of the road," Mr Bayton said. "What forced Junior over there I'm not sure.

"From what I saw it certainly looked like evasive action. I think it got to a point where it was too late to control. There was the impact, the noise, then the rider was thrown into the air."

Pc Louise Phipps, a forensic collision investigator for Avon and Somerset Police, said there were no skid marks on the road around the collision site - indicating no heavy braking.

Competitors were racing "shoulder to shoulder, wheel to wheel", up to six abreast on the left-hand side of the road, which was 20ft (6m) wide.

Nigel Thomas was driving his BMW 320, with partner Julia Taylor in the passenger seat, when they saw vans and motorbikes warning of a cycle race.

"Then I saw two cyclists come out from the group and to my side of the road," Mr Thomas said. "I immediately braked and the first rider looked up and moved back into his lane.

"The second rider was not going to miss my car. I could see him looking up but couldn't see if he was braking."

Mr Thomas was driving very slowly, around 15mph (24kph), when the collision occurred, Pc Phipps said.

The officer added: "Data from the Garmin from 12.35.08 shows he (Mr Heffernan) was travelling at 46.5mph. At 12.35.25 it became stationary.

"There was no other course of action available to Mr Thomas to avoid collision."

Mr Heffernan was pronounced dead at the scene at 1.19pm.

His parents did not wish to comment following the inquest.


From Belfast Telegraph