He Never Braked

The masonry arch canal bridge I included  in the previous post “My Travels with Kermit – An Introduction” has a sad tale associated with it.

A number of years ago we (the bridges section) were notified of a car accident at a bridge over the Union Canal near Whitecross.    It wasn’t one of our bridges but we checked it out anyway in case there was any danger to the public – it was the bridge in the photograph.

We knew some sketchy details about the accident but when we arrived there wasn’t much sign of damage to the bridge or the surrounding land.  That was pretty unusual.  From what we could find we started putting the sequence of events into place.  We did know that the car had been travelling east on the road above (right to left as you look at the photo) and had left the road, ending half on the east bank of the canal remarkably having cleared the waterway in the process.

Imagine it’s night and you are travelling along a narrow hedged country road that dips and enters an extensive copse of trees.  Suddenly either side of the road is hemmed in by 1m high walls in a gentle right, then left, chicane.  You make it through the chicane.  Still in the trees and now just in front of you are the solid stone ends of the canal bridge parapets the road passing between, narrowing slightly as it crosses the bridge. 

We think that at this point, somehow, the vehicle left the road and ended up on the opposite bank below the bridge.

But how did it get there?   There was no obvious way down without causing damage to either trees or the bridge parapet

No trees on the approach were damaged.

There was only a slight scuff on top of the bridges north parapet.

There was a single tyre track in the soft north verge.

There was a gate post leaning over, almost flat, its top resting against a bright yellow grit bin positioned at the end of the bridge parapet – the end that the vehicle had been approaching when it left the road.

The pieces were falling into place.

The car must have been hurtling down the narrow country road.  In the dark the driver misjudged speed and distance and lost control in the chicane.  We surmised that once through the chicane the car moved into the left hand verge (where we found the tyre track) then struck the gate post causing it to tilt over.  Now here’s the crux of the whole accident…the bright yellow grit bin appears to have stopped the gate post from going flat to the ground thus creating a ramp for the out of control car which then took off…barely scraping the top of the parapet as it almost cleared the canal, such was its speed.

What happened next was as inexplicable as it was tragic.

Just to check that we hadn’t missed anything (and given the lack of apparent damage to check we were at the correct bridge!) we went to talk to the occupant of the house next to the canal where the car had supposedly landed.  Yes, he confirmed…we had the correct bridge and then he told us his story of that terrible event.

He had heard the sound of a crash and shot out the house to see what was happening.  In the dark he found the car half on the bank, half in the canal.  The back end had dropped below water level.

The young male driver was alive and they hauled him out.  Unable to see clearly because of the water and the lack of light they checked with him to see if there was anyone else in the car.  No…he confirmed there was nobody else there. The guy then just shook his head…clearly upset.  The truth was obviously haunting him.  Later they discovered that there had been a young lad in the back, as I recall the driver’s younger cousin.  Incredibly a rescue that could easily have taken place had been abandoned too soon and a young life lost.

To this day I cannot imagine why the driver had said there was nobody else in the car.

But for me the most chilling fact of all…there were no skid marks on the road or in the verge above.  It looks like the driver never braked…he never braked!