Tragedy as ‘brilliant’ son, 19, died after combine harvester crash

A teenage motorcyclist died from multiple injuries after colliding with a combine harvester on a country road, an inquiry has been heard. Harry Abbey, 19, was traveling on Hollins Lane in Warrington shortly before midday on July 21 last year when he hit the brakes suddenly, causing him to lose control of his Yamaha bike.

He came off his vehicle and into the path of an oncoming combine harvester. Mr Abbey, from Warrington, was pronounced dead at the scene, Warrington Coroner’s Court was told yesterday (April 20).

The collision occurred as a tractor – which was towing a trailer – was escorting the large combine harvester around a bend near Watery Lane at 11.54am. The hearing was told that a blue Ford Fiesta, which was traveling in front of Mr Abbey, had braked “sharply” as the combine harvester came into view.

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Mr Abbey – whose mum Beverley and dad Andrew were at the court, along with his three siblings – also then braked, resulting in him losing control of his bike. The inquest also heard that it was likely the driver of the combine harvester had “insufficient time to avoid the collision.”

In a statement, which was read out by the assistant coroner for Cheshire, Jean Harkin, Mr Abbey’s mum said he was “resilient, strong and had a good sense of humour.” She described their loss as “the saddest day for the family”, and the “most traumatic experience I’ve ever gone through”.

In a further tribute made during the hearing, an emotional Mrs Abbey said: “Harry was our youngest child – the baby of the family. I’m conscious not to idolize Harry in death but it’s hard not to.

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“I don’t know the reasons for his choices that day and never will. I don’t want it to define him – he was fearless and brave. He lived and existed, and for that I’m truly grateful. Thank you for being such a brilliant son.”

The inquest heard evidence from tractor driver Gary Cox who was escorting his colleague Christopher Booker in the combine harvester. He said he was at “crawling” speed as he came around the bend. At this point a blue Ford Fiesta was traveling towards him. He says he used hand signals and an air horn to alert the vehicle to slow down.

Mr Cox told the hearing that he got no reaction from the driver so came to a stop. He then saw a shadow and immediately turned around, at which point he saw the back of the motorbike. It was positioned like it was going to overtake the Fiesta, the inquest heard. Mr Cox’s evidence then stated that the brake lights of the Fiesta “suddenly” came on.

As a result, the motorbike also braked and the front wheel went from under the rider, his evidence stated. The bike then fell to the left with Mr Abbey falling the other way, Mr Cox explained.

The junction of Hollins Lane and Watery Lane near to where the incident happened

Mr Cox said he believes the collision would not have occurred had the Fiesta not braked “suddenly”. Responding to a question from solicitor Robert Jones, who was representing the family, he added: “ella She [Fiesta driver] broke sharply because she saw the size of it (combine harvester).”

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Mr Booker, who was driving the combine harvester at its maximum speed of 12mph, said the Fiesta braked “quite heavily” as it came level with his vehicle. He then states in his evidence that he heard a tire screech before seeing the motorbike sliding along the floor. He steered to the left and braked, coming to a stop a short distance after the impact, the inquest heard. Mr Booker said at no point did his vehicle encroach into the opposite lane.

The driver of the Fiesta was traveling with her seven-month-old baby who was asleep in the back of the vehicle. In her evidence of her, she said she checked her rear mirror, braked and moved to the left as she approached the tractor to give it more room. She saw the top half of Mr Abbey in her mirror of her, but not the bike, recalling that he was “so close to me”.

She then said as she drove around the bend she saw the combine harvester. Her evidence from her stated that “it was huge” and appeared to be over the center of the road line. At this point she “broke again” but did not see Mr Abbey in her rear mirror of her. She heard the screech of tires and a crash sound, the inquest heard. She then saw Mr Abbey on the floor across the middle of the road.

She added that she did not see any hand signals from Mr Cox or hear his air horn, but recalled seeing flashing lights on the vehicle. She said seeing the combine harvester had taken her by surprise. Evidence read out on behalf of witnesses who saw Mr Abbey prior to the collision referred to him driving “erratically” and “in and out of cars” but there was no evidence to suggest he was traveling over the speed limit.

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A report by collision investigator PC Andrew Fellows, of Cheshire Constabulary, confirmed there was no faults with the Yamaha. At the scene I found two tire marks on the road caused by the motorcycle’s “abrupt” braking. Using the starting point of the tire mark he calculated Mr Abbey’s speed was in the region of 23-26mph.

As there was no marks on the Fiesta, or evidence of a collision, he was unable to reconstruct its movements. PC Fellows said that it was considered likely that Mr Booker had “insufficient time to avoid the collision”.

The hearing was also told that following the police’s investigation there was ‘no evidence to persuade them that any prosecution was necessary.’ Concluding that Mr Abbey’s death was the result of a road traffic collision, assistant coroner for Cheshire, Jean Harkin, offered her “sincerest condolences” to Mr Abbey’s family “on such a tragic loss.”

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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