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Former Plymouth student died in 'fireball' car crash

By Plymouth Herald  |  Posted: February 19, 2014

  • Nathan Percival

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A FORMER city student and his friend died when the car they were in collided with a lorry and burst into flames.

Nathan Percival and his pal Lee Harrington died almost instantaneously in the smash near Penzance in August last year, an inquest heard.

Mr Percival, aged 26, was from Launceston and had studied motor vehicle mechanics in Plymouth.

Speaking after his death, Mr Percival's mother paid tribute to emergency services who battled to save her tragic son at the scene.

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The inquest heard how the friends had been travelling towards Penzance on the evening of Sunday, August 18, when driver Mr Harrington, 27, lost control of the car on the A30.

The Citroën Saxo careered across the road into the path of a Foden Tipper truck driven by Michael Leah at around 9.45pm.

A fierce fire quickly engulfed both vehicles, with flames reaching 30 feet into the sky.

Mr Leah was able to get out of his lorry cab, suffering cuts and bruises to his head and a sprained wrist - but Mr Percival and Mr Harrington died at the scene.

The inquest at Truro heard that such was the ferocity of the blaze that Mr Harrington's identity was only later established through dental records while Mr Percival's was confirmed through DNA analysis.

They had both suffered severe and multiple injuries from the collision and it was considered both men died at the scene before suffering burns.

Two witnesses, travelling down the A30 toward Penzance from the Hayle direction on the same evening, had stated that a silver Saxo had been travelling at high speed shortly before the crash.

But forensic collision investigator PC John Hitchcock said that there were "too many unknown variables to calculate the speed of the Saxo".

Both vehicles had been damaged to such an extent that neither of them was in a condition to be examined for information which might explain why the accident had happened, he said.

He added that there were insufficient tracks and skids to calculate the pre-collision speeds of the vehicles.

"There was nothing in the climatic or road conditions that could have caused the accident," PC Hitchcock said.

"I would say that some degree of excess speed was a contributory factor."

Mr Leah, from Ludgvan, told the inquest that from the time of his first seeing the Saxo to the collision was only a matter of seconds.

"I noticed a set of headlights coming around the bend but then they twisted to point into the hedge so I assumed the car was in a spin," he said.

"I think the driver wanted to correct it; the car mounted the verge and that spun him towards my passenger side first at terrific speed.

"The car headed straight for me and then there was a huge bang and collision. Basically he lost control of the car on the bend."

Mr Leah said that the fire might have been made more fierce by the butane gas cylinders on board.

In recording both men's deaths as being from multiple injuries, Cornwall Coroner Emma Carlyon said: "The car and the lorry both caught fire which tainted some of the evidence.

"The reason why the driver lost control has not been established and we have not reliably been able to estimate the speed of the Saxo."

Mr Percival, who had attended Launceston College, was the youngest child of Jackie Peake and stepson of David Peake, who live at Lanstephan, Launceston.

His father Kevin lives at St Ives and he has an older brother and two sisters.

After college he did courses in motor vehicle mechanics at Plymouth and Camborne.

He had worked at Duchy Foods at Launceston.

After his death his mother, who attended the inquest with other members of the family, paid tribute to the emergency services who attended the accident.

Mrs Peake said: "He met Lee playing basketball when we were at the Angarrack Inn, and spent some of his time in Launceston and some of his time in Penzance.

"They were both hoping to move to Yorkshire to get jobs.

“Nathan was just a happy-go-lucky lad, quiet and caring.

"He liked watching magic programmes on TV, especially Paul McKenna.

"Football, fitness and astronomy were his interests, and he loved his cat, Grub."

She added: "“We want to thank the emergency services because we know that dealing with this crash was quite harrowing.

“Police said it was one of the worst scenes at an accident that they had seen in 20 years. The car was still burning the next morning.

“We really appreciate the efforts everyone made at the scene of the crash.

“We are also thinking about the lorry driver, as it must have been terrible for him and his family, and for the family, especially for the children, of the other lad in the car, Lee, as they have lost a partner and father.

“The family liaison officer, Karen Prattley, has also helped us a lot and we would like to thank her.

“Another officer, Jason Mullard, also came to see us and he gave me full and honest answers to the questions I asked him.”

Mr Harrington’s partner of eight and a half years, Kerry Blockley, said the father of their four children was kind and always looking after people.

“He taught me how to laugh and would pick me up when things were going wrong – I’m devastated that he’s gone,” she said. “It just doesn’t seem real – I thought we were going to be together forever.

“We had a great family life together; we were happy.”

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