A car involved in a fatal crash which claimed the lives of four young people was travelling at speeds up to 96 mph before the driver lost control and hit a tree, an inquest has heard.
The yellow Skoda Fabia, driven by 21-year-old Joshua Parkes, also had two under-inflated tyres and had caught the interest of a police patrol a few minutes before the deadly collision just before 9pm on October 13 2020.
Earlier, police had spotted the Skoda and found Parkes did not appear to be insured, however officers lost sight of the vehicle almost immediately.
A later investigation by the police watchdog concluded there was no evidence the police “caused or contributed” to the fatal crash.
Mr Parkes, who Black Country Coroner’s Court heard on Thursday sped along Bromley Lane, Kingswinford, Dudley at more than three times the 30mph limit, lost control, ploughing through a lamppost and hitting a mature tree.
The speed of the collision, after “heavy braking”, was later calculated at 43mph.
Construction shed builder Mr Parkes, a provisional licence holder who only seconds before the events leading up to crash had answered his phone to a friend, suffered fatal injuries.
His passengers; Nathan Cartwright, aged 18, Lucy Tibbetts and Isabelle Floyd, both 16, all either died at the scene or later in hospital.
A fifth passenger, a girl, was left with serious injuries but survived.
In tributes read to court, powder-coating worker Mr Cartwright was described as “sensitive and kind-hearted” with a “cheeky smile and an infectious laugh” whose life was “cruelly snatched away”.
Ms Tibbetts, one of five siblings and originally from Kidderminster Worcestershire, had overcome “relentless bullying” to take up an apprenticeship, and “had found a happy place to be in life” before the crash.
Ms Floyd, known as Izzie, had “the most infectious personality” and as a keen dancer had left behind “some amazing TikTok videos to cherish forever” before she was “so cruelly taken”.
An inquest, held by area coroner Joanne Lees into the deaths, heard Mr Cartwright had been the only person wearing a seatbelt in the car, which was heading to Kinver, Staffordshire.
However, the coroner heard expert opinion from a crash investigator that seatbelts would “not necessarily ensure survivability”.
Giving evidence, West Midlands Police senior collision investigator Andrew Salt concluded: “The primary cause of the collision was the speed at which (Joshua) Parkes deliberately chose to drive along Bromley Lane.”
Mr Salt, with 24 years’ experience, told how examination of roadside CCTV and dashcam showed that at times the Skoda was being “entirely voluntarily” driven on the wrong side of the road.
At one point Mr Parkes narrowly avoided a crash with an on-coming vehicle, while trying to take “the racing line” of the bend, on the wrong side of the road.
Mr Salt said the fact of the oncoming car meant Parkes had to steer back onto the correct side of the road “and it was that, that precipitated the loss of control (of the car)”.
Clarifying the point, Mr Salt added: “The Skoda could not have got around the bend at the speed it was travelling at, using the correct side of the carriageway.”
He added that as Mr Parkes negotiated the bends after that near-miss, his “interpretation is the driver felt he was going to strike the near-side kerb, approaching very quickly indeed and basically steered very abruptly to the right”.
At least two of the car’s tyres were later found to be under-inflated, including the front near-side which was up to only 17PSI – possibly from an undetected slow puncture – as well as the rear off-side.
It was his opinion low tyre pressures were “a contributory factor” to the crash.
The Skoda hit a kerb, clipping a bus stop post which ripped off the rear bumper, “felling” a reinforced concrete lamppost before a “substantial” impact with the tree.
The coroner concluded Mr Parkes’ died of misadventure – “a deliberate act which goes wrong” – while his the passengers’ died as a result of a road traffic collision.
Ms Lees said: “I am quite satisfied the actions of the Skoda driver were entirely of his own choice and one can only imagine how terrifying it must have been for occupants at the point the Skoda reached speeds of 96mph and travelling on the wrong side of the road.
“I am entirely satisfied the cause of the collision were the actions of Mr Parkes, as the driver of the Skoda, and that the speed and manner in which he drove the Skoda were significant factors in the collision.”
The inquest heard the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) carried out an investigation, because of the police’s presence prior to the collision.
In its report, the IOPC concluded it was “not in receipt of any evidence the police may have caused or contributed to the deaths” of those in the car.
The coroner said: “Whatever precipitated the actions of the driver of the Skoda, the Skoda was not being actively pursued or followed directly by the marked police car.”