He Never Braked

The masonry arch canal bridge I included  in the previous post “My Travels with Kermit – An Introduction” has a sad tale associated with it.

A number of years ago we (the bridges section) were notified of a car accident at a bridge over the Union Canal near Whitecross.    It wasn’t one of our bridges but we checked it out anyway in case there was any danger to the public – it was the bridge in the photograph.

We knew some sketchy details about the accident but when we arrived there wasn’t much sign of damage to the bridge or the surrounding land.  That was pretty unusual.  From what we could find we started putting the sequence of events into place.  We did know that the car had been travelling east on the road above (right to left as you look at the photo) and had left the road, ending half on the east bank of the canal remarkably having cleared the waterway in the process.

Imagine it’s night and you are travelling along a narrow hedged country road that dips and enters an extensive copse of trees.  Suddenly either side of the road is hemmed in by 1m high walls in a gentle right, then left, chicane.  You make it through the chicane.  Still in the trees and now just in front of you are the solid stone ends of the canal bridge parapets the road passing between, narrowing slightly as it crosses the bridge. 

We think that at this point, somehow, the vehicle left the road and ended up on the opposite bank below the bridge.

But how did it get there?   There was no obvious way down without causing damage to either trees or the bridge parapet

No trees on the approach were damaged.

There was only a slight scuff on top of the bridges north parapet.

There was a single tyre track in the soft north verge.

There was a gate post leaning over, almost flat, its top resting against a bright yellow grit bin positioned at the end of the bridge parapet – the end that the vehicle had been approaching when it left the road.

The pieces were falling into place.

The car must have been hurtling down the narrow country road.  In the dark the driver misjudged speed and distance and lost control in the chicane.  We surmised that once through the chicane the car moved into the left hand verge (where we found the tyre track) then struck the gate post causing it to tilt over.  Now here’s the crux of the whole accident…the bright yellow grit bin appears to have stopped the gate post from going flat to the ground thus creating a ramp for the out of control car which then took off…barely scraping the top of the parapet as it almost cleared the canal, such was its speed.

What happened next was as inexplicable as it was tragic.

Just to check that we hadn’t missed anything (and given the lack of apparent damage to check we were at the correct bridge!) we went to talk to the occupant of the house next to the canal where the car had supposedly landed.  Yes, he confirmed…we had the correct bridge and then he told us his story of that terrible event.

He had heard the sound of a crash and shot out the house to see what was happening.  In the dark he found the car half on the bank, half in the canal.  The back end had dropped below water level.

The young male driver was alive and they hauled him out.  Unable to see clearly because of the water and the lack of light they checked with him to see if there was anyone else in the car.  No…he confirmed there was nobody else there. The guy then just shook his head…clearly upset.  The truth was obviously haunting him.  Later they discovered that there had been a young lad in the back, as I recall the driver’s younger cousin.  Incredibly a rescue that could easily have taken place had been abandoned too soon and a young life lost.

To this day I cannot imagine why the driver had said there was nobody else in the car.

But for me the most chilling fact of all…there were no skid marks on the road or in the verge above.  It looks like the driver never braked…he never braked!


10 thoughts on “He Never Braked”

  1. Anyone in the US older than 20 or 30 would automatically think of the Chappaquiddick incident in 1969 involving Senator Ted Kennedy. Tragic, haunting, and probably avoidable. His career forged ahead, and I think he sort of redeemed himself after many years, but never totally. There are events you can forgive and forget, but not that one.


    1. I’d forgotten about that one Florene…remember it well now that you’ve brought it up. Thanks for the link I’m off to refresh my memory. 😀

    1. That was impressive…a grand idea if it had worked. It’s one of those stories that had our whole office in stitches. I saw the ice on that section on that very same year…it was pretty thick!

  2. We were contemplating taking a chance descending under some seracs in the Alps years ago…late afternoon…wrong time of day. Two guys a few hundred metres in front took a chance and traversed underneath.Whoosh,a huge avalanche hit them and they disappeared.We were gobsmacked when one of them managed to extricate himself as it was a very substantial one with huge blocks of ice the size of small houses.He continued on his way down and didn`t seem in any hurry and on towards the hut.
    Having witnessed this any chance of us making it back to our tent and avoiding a bivvy was considered “oot the windae” now 🙂 Called in at the hut next day and the guy was still there.He didn`t know that he had been involved in an avalanche and that his mate was dead.
    We had a word with the warden and he was choppered out within the hour.Seems the shock had blotted the entire episode from his mind…

    1. Fascinating story Alex…I hadn’t thought about shock. That would explain the strange reaction to the question.

    2. I can kind of understand that. I had a bad accident once where a horse bolted with me and couldn’t make it round a chicane over a bridge so jumped the wall to plunge us 30 feet or so down to the river bank. I flew off as the horse turned upside down (I think) and landed on the top of my head about 10 feet down at the top of the steep banking – the horse was unfortunate and fell the rest of the way and had to be later shot. But the funny thing was, I don’t remember seeing anything after the horse took off and the realisation of what would happen next hit me, although my eyes must have been open. But for years afterwards, I kept having flashbacks of a chestnut horse somersaulting above me so I obviously did see it but my mind completely blanked out the details at the time. My life didn’t flash before me either so I’m wondering if that’s a myth?

      But how terrible that the lad in the car crash said there was noone in the back! Was it a stolen car?

      1. Sometimes I wonder how much we “make up” in our minds after such events. I had a wee accident with a car many years ago and in my mind I picture the classic tv shot of a hedge rushing towards me. Now I can’t figure out if that’s what I saw or whether my mind has created that image. 🙄

        The accident in the “Tail” was a few years back and I can’t remember the full details. I certainly recall a local newspaper reporter, with whom I did a hillwalk, mentioned that it was a “known” family, but I can’t say for certain now whether or not the car was stolen or whether the driver had a license, insurance etc.

  3. Interesting detective work.One of the guys in our club was in the artic years ago and watched helplessly as a car shot off an icy road down into a ravine.The thing he remembered were the brake lights still going on several times while the car was in mid air,then once sitting on top of a tree.

    1. Now that is a freaky one, Bob.

      Horrific to have to watch though…something he’ll never get out of his mind. 😦

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