'Fireball' accident killed Nathan Percival and Lee Harrington
A YOUNG man from North Cornwall and his friend died almost instantaneously when the car they were in collided with a lorry before bursting into flames.
Nathan Percival, 26, from Launceston, and Lee Harrington 27, from Penzance, both died at the scene of the accident on the A30 near Penzance, on Sunday, August 18, last year.
The friends had been travelling towards Penzance at 9.45pm in a Citroën Saxo driven by Mr Harrington when it careered across the road into the path of a Foden Tipper truck driven by Michael Leah.
A fierce fire quickly engulfed both vehicles, with flames reaching 30 feet into the sky but Mr Leah was able to get out of his lorry cab, suffering cuts and bruises to his head and a sprained wrist.
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An inquest at Truro heard that such was the ferocity of the blaze that Mr Harrington's identity was only later established through dental records while Mr Percival's was confirmed through DNA analysis. They had both suffered severe and multiple injuries from the collision and it was considered both men died at the scene before suffering burns.
Two witnesses, travelling down the A30 toward Penzance from the Hayle direction the same evening, had stated that a silver Saxo had been travelling at high speed shortly before the crash but forensic collision investigator PC John Hitchcock said that there were "too many unknown variables to calculate the speed of the Saxo".
Both vehicles had been damaged to such an extent that neither of them was in a condition to be examined for information which might explain why the accident had happened, nor were there sufficient tracks and skids to calculate the pre-collision speeds of the vehicles.
PC Hitchcock said: "There was nothing in the climatic or road conditions that could have caused the accident. I would say that some degree of excess speed was a contributory factor."
Mr Leah, from Ludgvan, told the Truro inquest that from the time of his first seeing the Saxo to the collision was only a matter of seconds.
"I noticed a set of headlights coming around the bend but then they twisted to point into the hedge so I assumed the car was in a spin," he said.
"I think the driver wanted to correct it; the car mounted the verge and that spun him towards me passenger side first at terrific speed. The car headed straight for me and then there was a huge bang and collision. Basically he lost control of the car on the bend."
Mr Leah said that the fire might have been made more fierce by the butane gas cylinders on board.
In recording both men's deaths as being from multiple injuries, Cornwall Coroner Emma Carlyon said: "The car and the lorry both caught fire which tainted some of the evidence.
"The reason why the driver lost control has not been established and we have not reliably been able to estimate the speed of the Saxo."
Mr Percival, who went to Launceston College, was the youngest child of Jackie Peake and stepson of David Peake, who live at Lanstephan, Launceston. His father Kevin lives at St Ives and he has an older brother and two sisters.
After attending Launceston College he did courses in motor vehicle mechanics at Plymouth and Camborne. He had worked at Duchy Foods at Launceston.
After his death his mother, who attended the inquest with other members of the family, paid tribute to the emergency services who attended the accident.