Man ‘disregarded warning signs’ before he and grandson died on level crossing
The car was struck by a train around 14 seconds after the barrier had been fully lowered, an inquest heard.
A retired teacher and his teenage grandson were killed when their car was struck by a train at a level crossing after the pensioner ignored the flashing lights and barriers indicating an incoming train, an inquest has found.
The Kia Rio Barry Hearnshaw, 71, and 15-year-old Will Hallett were travelling in was torn in half by the impact when it was struck by a train travelling at 73mph.
Both victims died instantly at the site of the half-barrier crossing at Barns Green, near Horsham, on Saturday February 17 last year, West Sussex Coroner’s Court heard.
Will was thrown out of the vehicle while his grandfather was found in one half of the wreckage.
Former headmaster Mr Hearnshaw had been driving Will to a football match at around 8.38am when the accident took place, less than 10 minutes after they set off.
A pathologist’s report found the cause of death for Mr Hearnshaw as multiple injuries and a head injury for Will, and said both would have died instantly.
Evidence from collision investigators showed that it was likely Mr Hearnshaw had steered around the barrier on to the right-hand side of the road and was heading diagonally back to the left hand side of the road when the car was hit.
Relatives suggested Mr Hearnshaw may have suffered a medical incident like a stroke, although his injuries were too extensive for this to be proven.
It was also deemed unlikely by investigators because of the apparently deliberate nature of the car’s steering path.
On Friday, a jury found the cause of Mr Hearnshaw’s death to be accidental, saying: “The deceased attempted to cross the level crossing at Barns Green in his vehicle after disregarding warning signs put in place to prevent this and in the process of doing so was struck by an oncoming southbound train.”
However they ruled that Will had been unlawfully killed as a result of Mr Hearnshaw’s driving on the morning of the accident.
Paul Banks, a former police constable with Sussex Police’s serious collisions investigations unit, said gouge marks on the car and marks on the road indicated the path of the vehicle.
In his evidence Mr Banks, who has since left the force, said: “The vehicle is travelling diagonally across the crossing.
“When it was struck by the train it was on the wrong side of the road and was travelling back to the correct side, that’s obviously quite important when it comes to the accident.”
Jurors heard that the system on the level crossing was working at “normal operation” on the day of the crash.
It was estimated that the barriers had been fully lowered for around 14 seconds before the fatal collision.
However investigators were unable to offer definitive proof they had lowered as a data-storage box nearby was destroyed by fire after one half of the car became embedded in it, the inquest heard.
The weather was dry and bright but Mr Banks said it was unlikely Mr Hearnshaw had been dazzled by the sun to the point he could not see the barriers.
But he said it was possible the light could have caused him to misjudge the distance of the approaching train.
We want to make it very clear as a family we don’t believe in any way Barry would consciously put the life of himself and his grandson at risk at any point Family statement
In his conclusions, he said: “Mr Hearnshaw was a local.
“It’s likely he was fully aware of the layout of the road and the crossing.
“He’s taken a steer path around the barrier then taken a steer path across the crossing.”
He added: “This would suggest he was not distracted or suffering from a medical episode.”
Mr Banks said the evidence suggested Mr Hearnshaw “made a conscious decision to contravene the barrier and the lights”.
Train driver Mark Taylor, who has over 30 years experience, described the crash in a statement, saying: “There was a big explosion and a sound of glass smashing then a ball of smoke and flames.”
He estimated the car was about three quarters of the way across the crossing when he hit it.
Trevor Parsons, who was driving a train going the opposite way at the same time, was also forced to apply the emergency brakes, coming to a stop 10 metres before the collision.
The crossing did not have CCTV cameras installed at the time of the crash.
Several relatives were present at the hearing, in which a family statement was read on the first day.
It said: “We want to make it very clear as a family we don’t believe in any way Barry would consciously put the life of himself and his grandson at risk at any point.”
Will was described by loved ones as a “handsome, intelligent and extremely active” teenager who loved football, was a Chelsea Football Club fan and wanted to be a pilot.
He played for Horsham Sparrows and attended Tanbridge House School.
Mr Hearnshaw has been remembered as a “devoted” husband and father who dedicated himself to charity work after retiring from his “dream” job in teaching.
Coroner Penelope Schofield offered her condolences to the family.