Man hugs driver of tipper truck that killed his cyclist girlfriend at King's Cross blackspot
Thursday, 19th December 2013
Kenji Hirasawa with Deep Lee
Published: 19 December, 2013
by TOM FOOT
THE boyfriend of a young cyclist killed by a tipper truck shared an emotional hug with its driver at an inquest after both told the court they were victims of poor road layouts and transport policy.
Min Joo Lee died from severe head injuries after being struck from behind as she approached York Way from Gray’s Inn Road, King’s Cross, on October 3, 2011.
It was the 24-year-old’s first day back at Central St Martins School of Art, where she was in her final year of a university degree in men’s fashion.
Her boyfriend, Kenji Hirasawa, came face to face with lorry driver Terence Gibbs for the first time at Poplar Coroner’s Court on Tuesday.
Mr Gibbs, who said he had been driving lorries for 48 years, told the inquest: “It hurts believe me. I can remember what happened like yesterday. I am so sorry this has happened. I wish only for a miracle to bring the life of that lady back.”
He added: “I’ve done that route hundreds of times and I still do it now. You’ve got to make [the Gray’s Inn Road slip road] into one lane. There’s no cycle lanes – there’s nothing down there for cyclists. It’s winding me up.”
Earlier he had said that the King’s Cross junction, where two lanes in Gray’s Inn Road pinch into one in York Way, was “outdated”.
Mr Hirasawa told the court: “Transport for London is encouraging people to cycle more – but the roads are not safe enough. The environment is not safe enough. The same accidents are going to happen. I don’t think TfL are doing enough to make things better.”
Remarkably, he told Mr Gibbs: “I hope you can have a nice life later.”
CCTV footage shown to the court revealed how a No 45 bus and a minicab had stopped in the green “advanced stopped zone” box reserved for cyclists to give them a head-start at the traffic lights.
Ms Lee could be seen pushing off while penned in by heavy traffic seconds before Mr Gibbs’ 32 tonne tipper truck collided with her. She died of the highest possible level of head injuries, according to a Royal London Hospital medical report read to the court.
A report by the Met Police’s road accident investigation unit said Mr Gibbs could not have expected to see Ms Lee because she was so close to the front of the lorry at the lights. There is roughly a two-metre blindspot directly in front of lorries, the inquest heard.
Mr Gibbs had told the court that he had “straddled” both lanes in Gray’s Inn Road because the entrance to York Way was notoriously too tight for two lanes of traffic.
Sergeant Dave Kingston, senior collision investigator at the Metropolitan Police road death investigation unit, said: “Had he maintained the line, Ms Lee and Mr Gibbs would not have come into contact.”
He added: “Ms Lee had a fixed gear bike. She wouldn’t have moved off quickly. If it had been a geared bike she might have got away quicker.”
Sgt Kingston said that Ms Lee was not wearing a helmet or fluorescent clothes, as is advised by the Highway Code.
Known to those closest to her as “Deep Lee”, a name she chose to reflect her life philosophy, Ms Lee came to this country from Korea for an education.
In earlier interviews with the New Journal, Mr Hirasawa, who is from Japan, has spoken of how the pair were profoundly in love. He organised her white “ghost bike”, which remains near the scene of the accident in King’s Cross.
TfL head of capital development Nigel Hardy told the court there was a plan to introduce cycle lanes in Pentonville Road and Caledonian Road as part of a second-phase revamp of King’s Cross expected to begin next year.
Despite calls from the London Cycling Campaign, which attended the hearing, a cycle lane will not be set up at the junction where Ms Lee died.
Coroner Mary Hassell recorded a verdict of death by road traffic collision after saying she was satisfied the driver could not reasonably have been expected to see Ms Lee.
She added: “It is in some ways unsurprising that the collision took place because this was such a busy junction. Ultimately, cyclists and trucks don’t mix. The best possible way of having to avoid collision is to separate them.”
The Crown Prosecution Service said there was not enough evidence to charge Mr Gibbs with any criminal offence.