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Passenger 'jokingly' grabbed car wheel causing crash with fiancée, inquest heard

John Stow, 25, died in June after playfully grabbing the wheel of the car he was travelling in, causing it to swerve and hit a tree

A landscape gardener who was saving hard for his wedding died after playfully grabbing the wheel of a car, causing it to swerve off the road in Church Crookham.

John Stow, 25, was being driven home to Aldershot by his fiancée Johanna Mullhaupt on June 26 after an evening in the Tweseldown pub – a rare chance to let his hair down with friends after being paid that day.

However, the man, described at the inquest into his death at Alton Magistrates’ Court yesterday (Wednesday) as someone who was always laughing and joking, playfully grabbed the wheel of the car in Aldershot Road, causing it to swerve and hit a tree, before landing upside down in a ditch. He died from multiple injuries sustained in the crash, which occurred at 11.05pm near the Foresters pub and left the silver Peugeot 206 a wreck.

Miss Mullhaupt, 25, and a second passenger, Jonathan Godfrey, 23, suffered cuts and bruising.

Giving evidence, Miss Mullhaupt said she drank a soft drink and was driving Mr Godfrey back to the Army Golf Club in Laffans Road, where he lived and worked and where she is a bar supervisor. She said hers was the only car on the stretch of road at the time.

She said she could tell her fiancé, who had been drinking lager and cider, was drunk because he was ‘talking a lot of rubbish’.

Asked about the moments before the crash, she said they had been singing along to a song on the radio and that she was travelling at about 50mph, well below the speed limit.

“He grabbed the wheel,” she said, tearfully recalling the incident. “He didn’t mean to intentionally cause the crash – he did it in a joking way. The car veered and hit the grass verge on the right side of the road. I tried to straighten it up, but then I was knocked out. I remember waking up and trying to get my head around what actually happened. I saw him lying there and needed to know if he was all right.”

A motorist who came across the crashed car, said the driver and rear passenger were trapped, crying out for help and covered in blood. He said Mr Stow was on his back making ‘whimpering noises’ before going quiet.

Kevin Spiller, the forensic collision investigator who investigated the crash, said it seemed likely both Mr Stow and Mr Godfrey were not wearing seatbelts. He also suggested the crash could have been caused when Miss Mullhaupt pulled the wheel back, accidentally causing the car to veer across the road and become airborne as it reached the ditch before hitting the tree.

The passenger side of the car suffered the majority of the damage, and firefighters found it difficult to remove Mr Stow.

Mr Godfrey said he heard there had been a fatality when he was in the ambulance being driven to hospital. He said: “I knew it was John as his face did not look normal when I last saw him. He was pale.”

Mr Stow's father said his son had been working ‘flat out for three weeks’ in order to earn enough money to get married. He suggested the speed limit of Aldershot Road should be reduced.

Coroner Andrew Bradley said he was satisfied the crash had not been the fault of Miss Mullhaupt and recorded a verdict of accidental death. He offered his sympathy to Mr Stow’s family and friends.

 

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