10 June 2021

Mother and three children died after car collided with lorry, inquest told

10 June 2021

A mother and her three children died when their family car collided with an oncoming lorry, an inquest has heard.

Zoe Powell, 29, and children Phoebe, eight, Simeon, six, and Amelia, four, were killed in the crash on the A40 near Oxford at about 9.50pm on October 12 last year.

Her husband Josh Powell and their youngest child Penny, aged 18 months, were also passengers in the family’s Subaru people carrier and survived the collision.

Oxford Coroner’s Court heard the couple had collected their four children, who had been staying with Mr Powell’s parents in Worcestershire, and were returning to their home in Chinnor, Oxfordshire, at the time.

Mrs Powell was driving the family car, which had a specialist car seat system attached to allow the four children to sit beside each other on the back seat.

The inquest heard how the crash happened when the Subaru swerved into the path of a fully-laden Renault 480 lorry on the opposite side of the road.

Senior coroner Darren Salter said he could not rule out the possibility this was a “deliberate act” but he did not consider it likely.

He added there was “no evidence” that Mrs Powell had thoughts of harming herself or her children.

“It’s more likely to be due to fatigue or distraction, or a combination of the two, and that the steering input was driver error,” Mr Salter said.

“The cruise control was engaged and at the last moment the accelerator was pressed instead of the brake, which is a phenomenon sometimes seen in these circumstances.”

He reached a conclusion of road traffic collision for Mrs Powell and her three children, and said their deaths occurred when their car “crashed on to the wrong side of the road and collided with an oncoming lorry”.

Mrs Powell, an artist and author, and daughter Phoebe were pronounced dead at the scene, with the cause of their deaths given as multiple injuries.

Son Simeon and daughter Amelia were taken to the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford, where they later died. Simeon’s cause of death was recorded as traumatic brain injuries while Amelia suffered a severe head injury.

In a statement read to the inquest, Mr Powell, a railway engineer, said he had no memory of the crash and his last recollection was being at his parents’ home that evening.

Lorry driver Adao Patricio described seeing the Subaru approaching on the opposite side of the road before “suddenly” changing direction and swerving into the lane he was driving on.

“I had nowhere to go. The car came across onto my side of the road very quickly – I don’t know how that could even happen,” Mr Patricio said.

“It was travelling fast but I would not say it was travelling at excess speed. I didn’t have time to brake before the car hit my lorry.”

Mr Patricio said his lorry weighed 18,000kg and had a full cargo of 18,000kg, meaning a combined weight of 36,000kg.

The inquest heard youngest daughter Penny was thrown out of the car by the impact of the collision and was found crying on the ground by drivers who had stopped after the crash.

In a report, investigating officer Pc Lyndsey Blackaby said Penny received first aid at the scene and was later discharged from hospital.

Mr Powell was extracted from the wreckage of the Subaru and spent several months in hospital recovering from serious injuries.

Describing Mrs Powell, Pc Blackaby said: “Zoe Powell was a much-loved, respected and active member of the community.

“She was clearly devoted to her four children, her marriage and her faith.”

An investigation did not find any issues with Mr Patricio’s driving before the collision and there was “no clear reason” why the Subaru swerved into the path of his lorry, the inquest heard.

Pc Murray Maclean, a forensic collision investigator, said he could find no evidence of braking or loss of control on the road prior to the impact.

Data recovered from the Subaru showed it was steered to the right, then to the left, and the accelerator was fully pressed down in the seconds before the crash.

Pc Maclean said Mr Patricio had “no real chance” of avoiding what happened.

The coroner described the incident as “tragic” and offered his condolences to the families of Mrs Powell and her husband, who attended the hearing.

In a statement issued through Thames Valley Police, the families said there was much they would “never fully understand about the crash”.

“The possibility that such a small distraction may have caused such a horrific accident should act as a painful reminder for everyone that roads are dangerous places; the actions of a single moment have wrecked an entire family and had a lasting impact on everyone around them,” they said.

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