A coroner has praised the family of a nine-year-old girl who died in a collision on the North Devon Link Road after they chose to donate her organs.
Keira Ball was fatally injured in the collision on the A361 Link Road near West Buckland on July 30 last year, and died in hospital two days later.
Her mother Loanna, who was driving the Vauxhall Vectra at the time, was seriously injured in the crash, as was Keira’s brother Brad.
Witnesses told the inquest at South Molton Town Hall today (Wednesday) how the Vauxhall Vectra, driving towards Barnstaple, was seen drifting into the opposite lane.
There was no indication of any braking as the Vectra, which also had Keira’s brother Brad in the front passenger seat, drove head-on into a Ford Ranger travelling in the opposite direction.
Forensic collision investigator Jenny Inness said a possible cause of the car drifting was that Loanna may have experienced micro-sleep or fallen asleep at the wheel.
PC Inness said another consideration was that she was distracted by something within the car, but Loanna has no recollection of the collision or the moments before.
William Paddon, who was driving the Ford and towing a cattle trailer with his prized Irish rare breed Maisie in at the time, also cannot remember the crash.
Mr Paddon said he remembered joining the A361 towards Tiverton and said: “The next thing I remember was waking up still sat in my pick-up, but it was all smashed up.”
Retired police officer Michael Adams witnessed the crash and said the Vectra began to move diagonally into the opposite lane before there was ‘an almighty explosion’.
The force of the impact was such that the two vehicles coalesced, and helpers at the scene had to use a fire extinguisher when smoke began issuing from the engines.
Off-duty police officer DC Duncan Jennings also witnessed the crash, and told the inquest how he found Keira unconscious in the rear passenger seat.
“I spoke to her and held her hand; I comforted her and told her that it’s all OK and I’d look after her,” he said.
Keira’s pulse began to weaken so DC Jennings removed her from the car and a junior doctor who had arrived at the scene gave her CPR at the roadside.
Despite the efforts of those involved, who gave her CPR for 50 minutes before she was taken to hospital, she succumbed to her injuries two days later.
Keira was pronounced dead at 4.02pm on August 1 at Bristol Children’s Hospital and the organs her family chose to donate saved the lives of four people.
Coroner Philip Spinney said: “I’d just like to say it must have been a very difficult decision at the time to agree consent of her organs being donated, and what you did was a very important thing.”
Mr Spinney recorded a conclusion of death by road traffic collision and said the cause of Keira’s death was head and neck injuries.
Speaking after the inquest, Keira’s aunt, Sarah Stewart, issued a statement on behalf of the family.
She said Keira’s parents Loanna and Joe had set up a charity, Inspired by Keira, to promote organ donation and support families in similar situations.
She said: “I understand it’s been a very difficult time for my family since the death of Keira in the road traffic accident a year ago.
“The inquest and issuing of the death certificate will enable us to draw a line under the former aspect of this tragedy.
“The loss of our beautiful daughter Keira will never be forgotten.
“I would like to thank the press for their sensitive coverage over the months since the accident, and in particular supporting us in our campaign for the new opt-out donor scheme and our efforts through Inspired By Keira.
“With your support and the huge response from the local community we’re doing what we can to try to make something good out of something so awful.
“Keira’s organ donations have saved four lives, notably that of Max Johnson, aged 10, who received her heart.”