Saturday, 23 October 2021

Mistake cost my son's life

THE mother of a teenage car crash victim has warned people not to drink and drive

THE mother of a teenage car crash victim has warned people not to drink and drive.

Josh Smith, of Ashford Avenue, Sonning Common, was killed when his Ford Fiesta hit a tree in Peppard Road, Emmer Green.

An inquest last month heard that the 19-year-old had been two-and-a-half times over the limit after a night out with friends when the crash happened in the early hours of September 14. The coroner recorded a verdict of misadventure.

His mother Sam Kelly-Smyth, 45, said: “Josh was always a very loving, sensible and thoughtful young man who usually made considered decisions. “On this occasion he made a wrong choice and God only knows why.

It’s something we’ve all done and have still been here to tell the tale but, sadly, he paid for his wrong choice with his life. “What Josh did can never change the wonderful, beautiful son, grandson, brother and friend that he was.”

Josh, a former pupil at Gillotts School in Henley and The Henley College, is thought to have drunk several pints of lager and a shot before driving home.

Mrs Kelly-Smyth said he would usually get a taxi home with friends or stay at a friend’s house and walk back the next day.

She said: “He would say he left his car somewhere and me or [my husband] Aston would pick him up later on. What he did was very out of character. He even walked to my mum’s in Tokers Green once.” The last time she saw Josh was 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 husband and other family members.

He bought them a bottle of wine before giving them a kiss and saying he loved them. Mrs Kelly-Smyth said no money was found in Josh’s wallet and added: “We feel he might have had enough money for a taxi if he hadn’t bought us the Pinot Grigio. It’s all ifs and buts but nothing can change what happened.

“One of his friends at the funeral said they blamed themselves. He said the thing their friends would say is, ‘if you feel all right to drive you are all right to drive’. I said to the young man, ‘you know that isn’t true’.

“It’s for everyone to learn from this because a lot of people who go drinking go to sleep somewhere for a few hours and feel okay to drive when they wake up.”

Josh was less than three minutes from home when his car skidded on a sharp bend. He had been travelling between 45mph and 55mph, below the 60mph speed limit.

Mrs Kelly-Smyth said: “We still believe that having negotiated all that way, there was something on that bend that startled him into moving to the other side of the road.

“Whether that was an animal or something else, we don’t know because there were no witnesses.

“He had only been driving since January last year but he knew that road very well. He wasn’t speeding so it’s not as if he couldn’t have controlled his speed.”

In September, hundreds of mourners attended Josh’s funeral at Grace Church in Emmer Green.

Mrs Kelly-Smyth, who has three other children, Jamie, 26, Alex, 24, and Georgia, 17, said this showed that Josh had touched many people’s lives.

She said: “No one has ever said a bad word about him and he’s still changing lives now.

“Alex has matured so much since the accident, it’s unbelievable. He says he was the one that would do stupid things and make stupid decisions. He can’t believe he’s still here to tell the tale when his younger brother isn’t.”

Mrs Kelly-Smyth is to run the Shinfield 10km in May with her father Cliff, who used to participate in the event with Josh.

The money raised will go towards a memorial bench at Bishopswood recreation ground in Gallowstree Common, where the teenager spent a lot of his time playing football.

Mrs Kelly-Smyth said: “His friends still come round to sit in his bedroom, where his ashes are, and it would be nice to have somewhere for them to go and pay their respects.

“One day maybe I can part with the ashes and scatter them in Bishopswood with permission because football was such a big part of his life.”

Josh was a Chelsea fan and the family received a club shirt signed by the players as well as a letter of condolence from captain John Terry. The letter has been framed with a picture of Josh by Antony Worrall Thompson, who owns the Greyhound.

Other tributes include a teddy bear with Josh’s name badge behind the counter at Millie’s Cookies in the Oracle centre in Reading, where he had also worked, and the planting of 200 bulbs at the crash site.

For Mother’s Day, Mrs Kelly-Smyth received a collage of words and phrases associated with her son, including “one in a million”, “laughing” and “going out out”, from family friend James Lovic-Earle.

Mrs Kelly-Smyth, who quit her job as deputy manager of Curves gym in Reading following her son’s death, is now working part-time at the Christian Community Action charity shop in Wood Lane, Sonning Common.

She said: “It keeps me occupied and I can go to the back of the shop if I’m having a bad day.

“I can wake up one morning and feel absolutely fine and think I could do a job but anything can make me feel tearful. I’m not someone who wants to do that in front of people.

“Hopefully, I can get stronger and, six months down the line, I’m already a lot stronger than I was when it first happened.

“Most of the time I have to believe it hasn’t happened. Your emotions are just all over the place but obviously I know Josh is not coming home. It’s a safety net for my brain.”

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