Faded road markings and a twisted give way sign may have contributed to the tragic crash deaths of a young man and his pregnant girlfriend.
Personal trainer Josh Alexander, 21, and “stunningly beautiful” Jessica Poole, 18, were killed in the accident at the crossroads junction of Plurenden Road and Bethersden Road in Woodchurch, near Ashford.
The couple had been on their way to work delivering takeaways as they tried to earn extra cash ahead of the arrival of their baby boy, who they were “excited” to meet.
Inquests on Friday, attended by their heartbroken families, heard police believe “heavily worn” road markings and a rotated give way sign on Plurenden Road, near the crossroads, could have been contributing factors in the crash.
The coroner is now writing to Kent County Council (KCC) to see what changes have been made to the junction since the accident before considering whether she will write a “prevention of future deaths” report.
The inquests at Oakwood House in Maidstone heard Josh had moved to East Cross in Tenterden just two months before the crash and used sat nav apps on his phone for directions while out driving.
He is believed to have been checking one of these apps just before unwittingly driving his Vauxhall Corsa across the junction and into the path of an oncoming DAF skip lorry travelling along Bethersden Road.
Josh, who worked at Tenterden Leisure Centre, and Jessica, a lifeguard from Hastings, both died from their injuries at the scene of the crash at about 5pm on Monday, June 5, last year.
They had been heading to Happy Valley Chinese in Tenterden, where they had taken on shifts to earn extra money after finding out Jessica was pregnant.
Giving evidence at the inquests, PC Simon Masterson, forensic collision investigator at Kent Police, said Josh had failed to recognise he was approaching a junction as he drove west along Plurenden Road.
“The give way sign on Plurenden Road, which was 11 metres from the junction, was rotated by 61 degrees,” Mr Masterson said.
“The road markings were heavily worn in several places. The approach triangle was also worn but discernable.
“There were no warning signs at Plurenden Road of the crossroads ahead. This could have caused confusion to the driver approaching.
“The worn lines and the rotated sign could have been a contributing factor.”
Since the accident, the lines have now been repainted on the road and the give way sign has been put back to the correct position.
The inquests heard that dashcam footage from the skip lorry which was travelling along Bethersden Road shows the Corsa approaching the junction.
PC Masterson described Josh as looking “calm” and “in control of the vehicle.”
The footage showed there was “no deceleration” by the Corsa, which approached the crossroad at a “constant speed.”
The footage also appears to show Josh was distracted by his phone for a brief moment.
PC Masterson said: “I’m confident his arm was stretched out to touch the phone.”
Based on the footage it was found Josh would have been driving between 50mph and 56mph, within the 60mph limit for Plurenden Road.
PC Masterson added: “Josh failed to recognise he was approaching a junction.
“He interacts with a mobile phone immediately before entering Bethersden Road.
“His actions suggest he was not aware of the junction ahead.”
While Josh is believed to have been using a sat nav app on his phone, as he had only moved to the area in April, it is not clear which specific app he was on at the time of the crash.
During investigations, PC Masterson approached the junction himself using Google Maps, Apple Maps and Waze, the most common sat nav apps. All of them failed to give an alert that a crossroads junction was ahead.
With this in mind, and the worn markings and rotated sign, it was said that Josh may not have known he had to give way.
Regarding the driver of the skip lorry, PC Masterson said there was “nothing he was physically able to do to avoid the collision.”
He added: “Josh failed to recognise he was approaching a junction.
“It is highly likely he was distracted by his mobile phone he is seen interacting with.”
No drugs or alcohol were found in Josh’s system or Jessica’s.
PC Masterson also mentioned the front air bags of Josh’s car did not deploy. But when asked whether this could have made any difference to the outcome, he answered “no.”
In conclusion, coroner Katrina Hepburn said: “There was nothing to suggest they were travelling at excessive speed.
“Whilst we speculate about whether or not he saw the sign, or if the mobile phone was in use, I don’t make any findings in relation to this.
“The crash caused significant and catastrophic injuries and the deaths were due to a road traffic collision.”
The coroner added that she will now write to KCC’s highways department regarding what improvements have been made at the crossroads. This will determine whether she writes a prevention of future deaths report.
A KCC spokesperson told KentOnline: “We are aware of the inquests and we await the letter from the coroner.
“Whenever there is a serious or fatal crash on one of our roads we work with Kent Police, expert engineers and coroners to investigate any causation factors that are identified.
“Once these are known we carry out any work deemed to be needed to help mitigate a similar incident from happening again.
“One death on our roads is one too many and we will continue to make sure we keep our roads safe.”
The inquests heard that Jessica had been “so excited to meet her baby boy”.
Her mother, Aimee Poole, said: “Jessica was a beautiful girl.
“She was my best friend and I would choose her company over anyone.
“The huge gap left in my life is indescribable.
“Jessica was beautiful, caring, kind, considerate and funny.
“We must have told each other we loved each other at least 20 times a day.”
Ms Poole said while Jessica was a “princess and loved the finer things in life” she also loved animals from a very young age and spent four years devoted to her horse Nellie.
She said: “Jessica was stunningly beautiful and would look glamorous even mucking out her horse’s stables. She shined from inside and out.
“She made me proud every single day.
“She had so many plans and great times ahead, we were a team.
“She was my proudest achievement and I miss her every single day.”
Speaking to KentOnline after the inquest, Josh’s father, Ben Sissens, said he believes the approach to the crossroads is “treacherous”.
“The national speed limit is 60mph but if you’re approaching a junction at that speed with no deceleration or notification, it’s dangerous,” he said.
“In plenty of other rural roads there are signs which warn you to reduce speed or rumble strips warning of a hazardous junction.”
Mr Sissens says he is convinced Josh was using a sat nav because his phone was shown to be using data for eight-and-a-half minutes and that’s roughly how long the location of the crash was from his house.
“The sat nav would have just shown the road as straight and given him no warning he had to give way,” he said.
Mr Sissens says Josh was “excited to become a dad” and the couple had started taking on deliveries to earn extra money for the baby’s clothes.
“He was constantly using his sat nav to do the deliveries for the takeaway,” he said.
Mr Sissens says he wants to put pressure on KCC to improve the safety of Plurenden Road, which he says should not be 60mph with no warnings of the junction ahead.
“If he was doing 40mph, he may have seen the road markings a bit easier,” he said.
“What has happened is horrific. It has ripped the families apart and I want to make sure other babies can go home to their families.
“I’ve spoken to the other driver and I have told him we don’t blame him.
“I don’t blame him whatsoever, it was a catastrophic set of events and I don’t want this to change his life. I don’t want him to carry the guilt.”
During the inquest, Mr Sissens also asked PC Masterson if in his opinion, had the speed limit been reduced approaching the junction with warning signs, could it have made a difference to the outcome in this case.
PC Masterson answered, “in my opinion, if I’m allowed to give that, then yes I believe it could”.
Mr Sissens says Josh loved football and played for Tottenham when he was younger.
“He was outgoing and loved his family,” he added.
“We are heartbroken and this is going to take a long time for us to get over.”