Questions remain over tragic crash

AS a second young person died after Wednesday's road tragedy at Witnesham, police and council officials were facing more questions about why the icy road remained open.

By Paul Geater

By PAUL GEATER transport editor>

AS a second young person died after Wednesday's road tragedy at Witnesham, police and council officials were facing more questions about why the icy road remained open.

A 19-year-old passenger in the car died yesterday at Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge where she had been treated since the accident.

She is from the Diss area, and was the girlfriend of driver Henry Wingate's brother who was travelling with them to Mr Wingate's grandfather's funeral.

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Today key questions remain about how Suffolk County Council and the police dealt with the road before the tragedy - especially as it had been the scene of a non-injury accident less than an hour earlier.

The exact cause of the accident has not been revealed by the police, but the road had not been gritted that morning and a driver who used it about half an hour before the tragedy described it as being “like an ice rink.”

Barbara Wardropper, 60, from Earl Stonham has been driving for 40 years and uses that section of road regularly to visit her mother in Witnesham.

She said: “It is normally very safe but on Wednesday it was terrifying. I could not believe there was no grit on the road.”

She drove along the road at about 9.40am on Wednesday and found police dealing with a car which had spun on the ice.

The police received a call about that accident just before 9.20am and arrived on the scene just after 9.30am. They already knew no one had been hurt, but the woman driver was shaken up.

Mrs Wardropper feared she might crash into the police car because she was unable to control her own vehicle on the slippery road.

A county council spokeswoman said police had asked gritters to go out on the county's roads “at about 10am” on Wednesday - although the police cannot confirm they made this call because it forms part of the evidence they are gathering for the eventual inquest into the death of Mr Wingate and the teenager.

Because their inquiries are continuing, the police will not comment on why they did not immediately close the road when they attended the first accident.

Mrs Wardropper said she had never encountered road conditions as bad as that in her 40 years of driving.

The decision not to grit A and B category roads on Wednesday morning - they had been gritted on Tuesday afternoon - was taken by managers at the county council's eastern highways office based at Saxmundham.

They use a strict procedure and consult data including Meteorological Office reports before making a decision on where the gritters should go.

The gritters themselves are based at Melton, near Woodbridge.

Instead the gritters were working on C category roads - smaller roads which are used by public transport - on Wednesday morning.

Initially the county council said one of its managers had used the B1077 at Witnesham on Wednesday morning before the decision not to grit the roads was taken.

However now it has emerged that the manager had driven “in that part of the county” but had not used that stretch of road.

A spokeswoman for the council said officials were speaking to the police who were gathering evidence for the inquest - and could not discuss issues that could form part of the legal process.

It is not clear if the gritters were in the depot when the call came from the police at about 10am - but even had they been there they might not have been instantly ready to go out.

The spokeswoman said: “They are driven by highways staff who have other jobs as well. They are not sitting about waiting for a call, they may have to be called in from other work like repairing roads.”

By the time the Star arrived at the scene of the accident at 11.20am the B1077 had been gritted - although the section where Mr Wingate's car had left the road had been closed off and the gritters had not been there.

For Police

What time was each of the three accidents recorded in your logs and did officers attend each one?

Were the officers who attended local beat officers or traffic officers?

What time did officers ask Suffolk County Council to attend to grit the roads?

Was there a delay between the second accident and the alert to Suffolk County Council and if so why?

Was consideration given to close the road until it had been gritted?

Where were officers after each accident and did they return to base or stay at the scene to act as a warning?

For Suffolk County Council

Why was the B1077 not gritted on the night?

If no-one from Suffolk County Council had travelled the road how could it be considered safe?

What was the time of the alert from Suffolk Police?

What was your exact response to the police request?

What time did you turn our from the depot?

What time did you reach the scene?

We're forwarding these questions to the relevant authorities and to the Greater Suffolk Coroner.

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