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Coroner calls for M65 light rethink following Burnley man's death
6:00am Wednesday 19th February 2014 in East Lancashire
A CORONER has called for a rethink on the decision to switch off the M65 lights at an inquest into a death crash victim.
Michael Singleton said he would send a report to the Highways Agency following the death of Burnley-born Mark Burgess, who was thrown from his car after hitting the central reservation near Junction 8.
An investigation found the 39-year-old was two-and-a-half times over the legal drink drive limit and his accident would not have been prevented had there been lights.
But Mr Singleton, senior coroner for Blackburn, Hyndburn and the Ribble Valley, said those caught up in the ‘carnage’ after the incident would have had a chance of avoiding the debris if the lights were on.
Mr Singleton said: “I am aware that the people that came across this were not people that were driving recklessly. These were people who were driving quite normally, who it seems to me did not have a chance of avoiding the debris that was in the road.
“I am required to make a report if it is that I believe that there are a set of circumstances which, if not changed, may lead to fatalities in the future.
“I therefore indicate that I will be preparing a report for the Highways Agency inviting them to reconsider the situation with regards to the street lighting on this stretch of the M65 motorway.”
It was also revealed that the reflection of the cats’ eyes on the stretch was not adequate and that the part of the central barrier Mr Burgess crashed into did not meet current specifications, although it would have when the motorway was built. The Highways Agency has planned to rectify these two issues.
The court was told Mr Burgess was last seen in the Lowerhouse Members Club, in Burnley, at around 10pm on November 23 last year.
He set off westbound on the M65 towards his partner Kirsty Tipping’s house, in Bolton Road, Abbey Village, although he had not been living there with her in the days leading up to his death because of bail conditions.
Miss Tipping said she had invited him to celebrate her daughter’s birthday with them, but had gone to the bingo in Blackburn first.
Because her phone was on silent she missed several calls from him.
When she went on Facebook after leaving the bingo hall, she saw Mr Burgess, a HGV driver, had posted a message which read: “I will only be ignored for so long. I am turning my phone off and going out.”
Mr Burgess’s mobile was recovered from the scene and it emerged he had tried to call Miss Tipping at 10.53pm, around the time the crash is believed to have happened.
Senior collision investigator PC Richard Roberts said it was probable Mr Burgess had also not been wearing a seatbelt.
He said had he been wearing one, the collision ‘was survivable’.
The inquest heard statements from motorists travelling in two Ford Kas, a blue MG and an ambulance, which were all caught up in the aftermath.
Charlie Smith, who was a passenger in her friend Sophie Eland’s car travelling from Burnley to Accrington, said: “It was absolutely pitch black and you could see no further than the beam the headlights gave off.
“It was so, so dark.”
The Lancashire Telegraph has launched a campaign urging the Highways Agency to turn the lights back on.
The Agency manages the motorway from junction one to 10. The lights were turned off between junctions seven and 10 in 2011 to reduce carbon emissions.
Junctions 10 to 14, where the lights are turned off between midnight and 5am, are maintained by Lancashire County Council.
Statistics from the Highways Agency were read out to the court detailing how experts believed the rate of casualties would increase by 0.06 annually once the lights had been turned off.
Mr Singleton concluded Mr Burgess died from multiple injuries as a result of a road traffic collision. He said: "I understand it is all very well using these statistics, but it seems to me that there is a certain false promise.
“In my experience, you rely upon what the vehicle in front of you can see. In that way, if you are in a line of traffic, you do not need the lights because everybody is doing that for you.
“If, however, there is nobody on the road, you do not have that opportunity.”
After the hearing, a Highways Agency spokesman said: “Safety is our top priority and we will therefore carefully consider any issues raised by the coroner as a result of the inquest.”
Miss Tipping said: “It is just a shame this did not happen before. It should have been done as a matter of urgency.”
To sign the Lancashire Telegraph petition to have the lights switched back on, visit www.lancashiretelegraph.co.uk
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