Man falls to death in Exeter days after 21st birthday

David Duben tragically died shortly after celebrating his 21st birthday
David Duben tragically died shortly after celebrating his 21st birthday -Credit:Simona Cierniková

The sudden death of a much-loved Exeter man whose 'smile lit up the room' occurred just days after he celebrated his 21st birthday, an inquest has heard. David Duben ended his life after falling from a footbridge on Bridge Road, Countess Wear, Exeter, on October 27, 2023.

His heartbroken mum Simona Čierniková, who has described David as having had an 'exceptional golden heart', is now urging other young people to open up to their parents if they are battling with their mental health in the hope of preventing another young tragedy.

An inquest was held into David's death yesterday, May 20, at Exeter Coroner’s Court. It was heard how, unknown to his loved ones, David, who was born in Slovakia, was struggling with his mental health.

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In a statement, Simona told how David had been due to go to university in September 2021 but instead decided to take a gap year. He then enrolled the following year but only stayed for a few months.

Summarising extracts from her statement, assistant coroner Nicholas Lane said: "After a couple of months [of attending university] you thought he had lost his way rather and thought he was starting to use drugs. It changed David."

David Duben on his 21st birthday
David Duben on his 21st birthday -Credit:Simona Cierniková

He continued: "He stated he did not want any assistance in relation to using drugs. As his mum you wanted to get help for him to see a doctor. You say he had no reason to use drugs at all. He had a happy home life and a good relationship with [his girlfriend]."

The inquest heard David celebrated his 21st birthday at home on October 23, just four days before his death. Simona recalled that she had last seen her son alive on the morning of October 27 when he had left for work in Marsh Barton.

Mr Lane said: "When he left you said to him not to do anything stupid as you were worried and had a feeling something was wrong." He continued: "After he left you tried to call and he was getting on to the bus, and again you asked him not to do anything stupid."

Further concern was raised that morning when David's girlfriend Amy Heath contacted Simona to say she had been sent worrying messages from him and he had turned his location off on his phone.

David Duben with is girlfriend Amy Heath
David Duben with is girlfriend Amy Heath -Credit:Simona Čierniková

In a statement, Amy told how they had been together for around a year and how he used to enjoy going to the gym. She recalled that around six months before his death he tried acid.

Summarising parts of her statement, Mr Lane said in relation to taking LSD: "He was interested in brain biology and thought it would increase his capacity to learn and did a lot of research online. Apart from acid, you were not aware of David taking any other substances.

"He struggled with anxiety and you thought he had ADHD but it was not diagnosed. In the week leading up to his death, he said he was feeling sleepy and tired."

She told how she last saw him on October 21 for a birthday meal and said he never mentioned anything that was worrying him and there had been nothing of concern in his text messages until October 27, at around 7.20am when he admitted he was 'not coping' and she said he was 'talking like it was the end'.

A colleague of David's, who had worked with him for four months, described in a statement how David would have his 'down days' but added: "He seemed very happy in his relationship and did not mention any issues or concerns."

He recalled he had not been at work the day before his death saying he was feeling unwell and did not turn up the following day. The inquest heard a statement from a driver on the morning of October 27 who witnessed the fall. She said it was 'clear the male intended to do what he did'.

David on a family holiday with his mum and brother
David on a family holiday with his mum and brother

David sadly passed away at the scene and in his backpack was found a suicide note which gave his reasons and mentioned mental health problems. The cause of his death was multiple injuries.

Toxicology tests detected prior use of ketamine and anxiety medication. Neither were excessive amounts.

Recording a conclusion of suicide, Mr Lane said it was a 'deeply tragic incident'. He said: "Obviously concerns have been raised about his drug use. It does seem it had become problematic for him. Unfortunately, a number of people in their early 20s experiment with taking drugs.

"There does not seem to be an obvious clear link between experimentation with some substances and an obvious reason to end his life. It may have been his substance use was more advanced than people may have known at the time.

The family's tribute to David on the bridge where he fell to his death -Credit:Simona Cierniková
The family's tribute to David on the bridge where he fell to his death -Credit:Simona Cierniková

"He was struggling with mental health issues but it seems he has not sought any professional help for it and there were no obvious symptoms to those closest to him that it was a problem he needed professional help with.

"It seems certainly on the morning of October 27, if not a couple of days before, David was in very bad place and resolved a wish to end his life."

He continued: "It was a deeply tragic decision and, of course, one I'm sure would live to regret if only he was able to survive that day."

Paying tribute to David after the inquest, Simona said: "In David's end of life note, he wrote the main reason he did it was because he had depression and anxiety stemming from years of abuse in his childhood. My son was not addicted to drugs; he took drugs and experimented with them to get rid of that pain and trauma and that's why he was in a bad mental state.

"I only found out after my son's death what happened to him in his childhood. A message I would like to give to young people is that it is very important to talk to your parents about everything that bothers you and what you have a problem with. If you don't communicate with your parents then it will be too late."

Tributes to David Duben on the bridge where he died -Credit:Simona Cierniková
Tributes to David Duben on the bridge where he died -Credit:Simona Cierniková

Simona recalled how David was 'exceptional' from an early age. He went to a school for exceptionally gifted children in Trencin, Slovakia, and went on to speak three languages; Slovak, his mother's tongue, English and German.

She said: "When he was five years old he could write, read and count up to 100. He excelled in many ways from an early age. He also attended an art school in Trencin where his artistic work was sent to a competition and he got a certificate.

"In 2010, we moved to the UK where he joined Wynstream Primary School in Exeter with his younger brother Erik. He excelled there and was among the best students. He was awarded for his artistic work and was invited by the Mayor of Exeter to an exhibition of his work at the Guildhall in Exeter and was photographed with her in the newspaper.

David Duben with his mum on holiday when he was young
David Duben pictured in his younger days -Credit:Simona Cierniková

"He also worked as an interpreter at the school where he obtained a certificate and helped new children who entered the school with the language and helped acclimatize them. After Wynstream Primary School he attended St Luke's College where he had many friends."

David went on to study at Exeter College and then the University of Exeter to study BSc computer science, but only stayed at the latter for a few months. After working for Stovax and Lidl, he worked as a driver's mate and was planning to do an engineering course.

Simona said: "I was very proud of him and always will be. He was also involved in sports and played football for more than six years with City Raiders as a defender and also as a midfielder. He also played rugby for Exeter Chiefs U12 group for more than a year and went boxing with his younger brother Erik.

David Duben with his mum on holiday when he was young -Credit:Simona Cierniková
David Duben with his mum on holiday when he was young -Credit:Simona Cierniková

"David was a very special boy who was so smart and intelligent with a sense of humour. He was funny, his smile lit up the room and he was a decent and well-behaved boy who grew up in a completely well-functioning middle-class family.

"David had planned a joint future with his girlfriend, Amy Heath. He loved her very much I know that she loved him. However, he was also troubled by his relationship with his biological father. It bothered him a lot which I know about because we talked about it more than once. It was hard for him to bear it.

"He was very sensitive and was also upset by the death of our family dog Caesar who died on August 22, 2023. David loved her more than anything.

David Duben played for Exeter Chiefs youth team -Credit:Simona Cierniková
David Duben played for Exeter Chiefs youth team -Credit:Simona Cierniková

"But David had absolutely no reason to end his life. He had no problems, no debts, a good relationship and had a functioning loving family that cared about him a lot and he was everything to us.

"I tried to help him, call a doctor, provide him with professional help, but he refused. He didn't want any doctor, he didn't want to hear about it at all.

"He had a wonderful life and we loved him very much and always will. He was absolutely everything to us and it is difficult for me to express the deep sadness in my heart."