Exeter dad killed in horror crash on his birthday

Leighton Curtis, age 26, from Exeter, was pronounced deceased at the scene -Credit:Devon and Cornwall Police
Leighton Curtis, age 26, from Exeter, was pronounced deceased at the scene -Credit:Devon and Cornwall Police

Multiple factors contributed to a crash which killed an Exeter dad returning home after buying a second-hand car on his birthday, an inquest has heard. Leighton Curtis, 26, was driving above the speed limit along the A377 near Leigh Cross, Chumleigh, when he lost control of his Volkswagen Polo on a bend and collided with a Volkswagen Amarok travelling in the opposite direction on July 15, 2023.

Leighton, who did not have a valid driving licence and had cocaine in his system, passed away at the scene after sustaining multiple injuries. The driver of the other vehicle, who was also travelling alone, walked out of the wreckage of his car but was taken to hospital after suffering a head injury from hitting the windscreen of his car. He had not been wearing a seatbelt.

The inquest at Exeter Coroner’s Court today, May 21, heard witness statements that recalled seeing Leighton driving at speed before the collision and that weather conditions were 'very poor' with heavy rain and wet roads.

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One said: "He took the bend too fast and lost control of his car." She added: "We missed being hit by seconds."

The driver of the vehicle Leighton collided with told in a statement how he had approached a bend on the A377 when he suddenly saw a car travelling sideways at speed and spinning anti-clockwise then clockwise to regain control but ended up on the wrong side of the road and collided with his car.

Recalling how he had braked hard before the impact, he said: "It all happened in milliseconds." He added: "The left side of his car hit the front of my vehicle and my head struck the windshield."

A forensic vehicle examiner concluded the car Leighton had been driving had two defective tyres in a 'dangerous condition', and tyre pressures were below recommended inflation guidelines. The speed dial had been frozen at 66mph following the crash.

The other vehicle had a defective parking brake but it was noted it would not have caused or contributed to the collision.

A full investigation into the crash was carried out by motor police constable (MPC) Leon Eisenblatter-Naylor. He told the inquest that Leighton had been travelling from the direction of Barnstaple to Exeter, on a stretch of road with sharp bends and appropriate warning signs in place.

Near Leigh Cross, Chumleigh, along the A377 -Credit:Google Maps
Near Leigh Cross, Chumleigh, along the A377 -Credit:Google Maps

At the time of the collision, Leighton had an expired driving license and so no entitlement to drive. It followed a period of disqualification which ended in July 2022. The vehicle had not yet been registered to Leighton and he had been driving without insurance.

The inquest heard Leighton had bought the car in the morning and had been driving it on his way home. MPC Eisenblatter-Naylor concluded a number of possible factors contributed to Leighton losing control of the car on the bend including speeding, weather conditions, defective tyres and drug use.

He said: "It appears he was travelling in excess of the national speed limit while possibly impaired through drugs. The weather and tyres were poor and as he negotiated trying to get around the bend he lost control."

Toxicology tests detected Leighton had taken a 'high recreational dose' of cocaine 'recently prior to death'. However, it was noted the level may have increased since the time of death. The effects of cocaine use can include impaired driving ability.

In a statement, his mum, Joanne Simmons, described Leighton - her first child - as having always been 'the life and soul of any party' with a good sense of humour and made people happy. After finishing his schooling in Exeter, she said he attended Bicton College and had intended to join the Army but fell in love and remained in Exeter and became a doting dad of three children. She added his boys were 'everything to him'.

She also described Leighton as having had a passion for sports including football, badminton and rugby which led to many trophy wins and being scouted by Exeter City. However, she said he had struggled with his dad leaving when he was 10, and his later death was believed to have led to him using cocaine as a 'way of coping'.

Ms Simmons said his mental health had been in a 'bad way' but there were no concerns he wanted to end his life. She said: "He never would have done anything to harm himself. He loved his boys too much and there was nothing to suggest he would harm himself."

In terms of his driving, she said he was a 'competent driver'. Distraught by the news of his death, she said: "It was the worst day of my life. It is devastating to lose Leighton. All our worlds turned upside down in a second. Part of me died with him. Our family broke in that moment and we are still struggling now."

Recording a conclusion of road traffic collision, Alison Longhorn, area coroner for Exeter and greater Devon said: "From the police investigation, it appeared Leighton was driving in poor conditions due to rain in a vehicle that was in a dangerous condition due to state of the tyres. It also appeared he was driving in excess of the speed limit while potentially impaired through cocaine use."

She added: "There is nothing at all to suggest this was an intentional collision."

Mrs Longhorn expressed her condolences to the large number of family and loved ones who attended the inquest and said: "I am sorry you lost Leighton in this way, especially on his birthday."

Following Leighton's death his family paid tribute, describing him as 'loving father, brother and son'. His family said: “He was a loving father, loving brother and loving son who will be deeply missed. All the family are devastated and need time to grieve.”