A TEENAGER died in a car crash after a night out drinking, an inquest heard.
Josh Smith, of Ashford Avenue, Sonning Common, was more than twice over the drink-drive limit when his blue Ford Fiesta hit a tree in Peppard Road, Emmer Green, in the early hours of September 14.
The corner recorded a verdict of misadventure after hearing the 19-year-old must have lost control of the car after misjudging a bend due to his condition.
Josh, a former pupil of Gillotts School in Henley and The Henley College, had been with four other friends at the White Horse pub in Emmer Green for a weekly quiz the evening before his death, Newbury Coroner’s Court heard on Wednesday.
Coroner Peter Bedford read out a statement by Josh’s friend William Downs, who said Josh had arrived unexpectedly at 9.30pm having earlier texted to say he would not be attending.
Mr Downs said: “I think Josh had a pint of beer but we didn’t stay very long. They had to cancel the quiz because of technical difficulties and five of us, including Josh, went to Reading. Josh offered to drive and we all got into his car.”
Josh parked in Hills Meadow car park in Caversham and the friends went to the Hope Trap, where they each had a pint of lager and a shot, and then to the Purple Turtle and Sakura bars.
Mr Downs said: “I think Josh was drinking but I don’t know because we were buying our own drinks. I don’t remember seeing him with a glass in his hand. We were just dancing, chatting and having fun.
“At some point two of our other friends decided to leave. I looked for Josh but couldn’t find him. It was quite normal for us to lose each other at the end of a night.”
Mr Downs said he got a taxi home from Reading train station and went straight to bed. The following morning he woke to see that he had received a text message from Josh at 2.26am. He also had three missed calls from his friend around 3.37am.
Mr Downs said: “It was perfectly normal for him to text or ring people when he had had a drink. When I saw him he was merry but not really drunk. Normally he gets a taxi home. He wouldn’t usually drive.”
Matthew Griffin, another friend, was out with another group when he saw Josh in the Purple Turtle.
He said he asked Josh to go home with him but he wanted to stay out.
After arriving home, Mr Griffin received several calls from Josh on his mobile phone and then his house phone asking him to go back out. Mr Griffin’s mother Michaela answered when Josh called the house a second time at about 3.40am.
In a statement, she said: “I said, ‘hi Josh, why are you ringing?’ and he said, ‘okay, sorry about that, I didn’t know what the time was. Enjoy the rest of your night’. I asked him, ‘what are you doing now?’ and he said, ‘I’m about to get a taxi. I will see you soon’.”
The next morning, Mr Griffin found texts from Josh at 3.44am saying he was “going to sleep at Matt’s house” so he assumed his friends must have been confused.
Dennis Fowler was driving along Peppard Road towards Sonning Common at 5.10am when he noticed a light coming from some trees at the side of the road.
He stopped to have a look and found the Fiesta crushed against a tree with the driver’s airbag deployed.
In a statement, Mr Fowler said: “I couldn’t see anyone in there. I assumed someone had crashed the car and managed to get out so I returned to the van and continued my business. I must have been by the car for one minute.”
It was only when he was driving along the road at the same time the following week that police officers investigating the crash stopped him and he told them what he had seen.
Matthew Dell had been driving along the road at 8.35am when he noticed a skid mark on the road and the Fiesta almost hidden from view.
His brother Stuart got out of their vehicle and found Josh in the driver’s seat of the Fiesta so he called an ambulance.
“Stuart called to him and there was no response,” said Mr Dell in a statement. “He couldn’t feel a pulse and the gentleman was cold to touch.”
Paramedics called to the scene pronounced Josh dead.
The inquest heard how a GPS tracker that had been fitted to the car by Josh’s insurance company showed the ignition went off at 4.08am.
Pc Simon Bishop, a police crash investigator, said Josh had been wearing his seatbelt and had probably been driving at between 45mph and 55mph when he lost control.The speed limit in Peppard Road is 60mph. He said that although the bend was one of the sharpest in the road, the teenager should have been able to negotiate it at that speed but blood tests had shown Josh had been two-and-a-half times over the drink-drive limit.
Pc Bishop said the crash happened between 3.45am and 5.20am.
“It was dark so illumination would have been difficult,” he said. “The Fiesta was driving towards Sonning Common. It had crossed to the incorrect side of the road and then went anti-clockwise.
“It left the road at the near side and collided with a substantial tree, ending up against a fence. He was two-and-a-half times over the drink-drive limit and witnesses suggest he knew this was the case.
“It’s expected that anyone with this degree of alcohol in their system will be significantly impaired with recognition times and it detrimentally affected his ability to drive properly.
“He misjudged the road layout and failed to drive round the bend as he should have done. He over-corrected his steering and this led him to lose control.”
A post-mortem showed Josh had died of severe head injuries.
Summing up, the coroner said the death was even more tragic because of the victim’s age.
Mr Bedford said: “Perhaps there’s an awful irony that if the pub quiz had gone ahead, perhaps he wouldn’t have been driving in the circumstances.”
He said getting a taxi would have been the “normal thing to do”, adding: “For reasons we will never know or understand instead of that he has driven his car and has failed to go round a bend.
“On another occasion he may have gone in a bush and walked away but the presence of a tree has changed that. It’s a terrible and tragic outcome for all concerned.”
Josh’s mother Sam Kelly-Smyth, who was sitting in the public gallery at Newbury town hall, seemed close to tears at the verdict.
She was being supported by friends and family, including Josh’s stepfather Aston and brother Jamie.
Two weeks ago, family and friends visited the site of the crash to light a lantern and lay flowers on what would have been Josh’s 20th birthday.
Mrs Kelly-Smyth saw her son the night before he died when he dropped her off at the Greyhound pub in Peppard, where he had worked as a barman, for her ninth wedding anniversary dinner with her family.
She said: “As he left he said he was going to buy us a bottle of champagne but it cost £40 so he got us a Pinot Grigio instead.
“He kissed us all on the lips because that’s what he liked to do and told us he loved us. Then he left and that was the last time we saw him.”