NOT wearing a seat belt may have cost a father his life after his car drifted off the A21 near Sedlescombe and smashed into a bridge parapet, an inquest heard this week.
But at the hearing on Wednesday, coroner Alan Craze said that the cause of the crash which killed Ninfield and Bexhill footballer Darren Horton, remained unclear.
Father of three Mr Horton, 37, from Martyns Lane, Pebsham, had been involved with Ninfield United football club for almost 10 years, running the reserve team, and had gone on to join Beulah Baptists football team in Bexhill shortly before his death.
The meter reader died instantly on February 9 this year while driving his black 998cc Peugeot 107 car northwards on the A21 at around 7.15am.
No other vehicle was involved in the accident and Mr Horton was alone in his car.
Crash investigator PC Mark Hill said the car had drifted off the carriageway just beyond the A21’s junction with Marley Lane and collided with railings on a river bridge before bouncing back at an angle into the road.
A post mortem examination by pathologist Dr Mark Boxer, now retired, showed Mr Horton had suffered fatal chest injuries, but there was no evidence of “natural disease or a medical event”.
Standard testing for drink or drugs proved negative.
PC Hill said he had researched the possibilities of Mr Horton temporarily falling asleep or being distracted just before the crash - such as by using a mobile phone, loud music or trying to remove a sweater - but there was no evidence to support these theories.
Had he nodded off, at 40mph he would have had 1.6 seconds to take corrective action, either by steering or braking, but tyre tracks showed neither had occurred.
The coroner agreed that it was more likely he had fainted or suffered a heart defect such as arrhythmia - palpitations that can cause dizziness - which a pathologist would not have been able to detect.
Various witnesses who arrived on the scene shortly after the accident described how they had tried in vain to help Mr Horton, who had been thrown upside down onto the passenger seat by the impact.
Alison Llewellyn-Jones, a teaching assistant and trained first aider living nearby, said she had been on the scene within minutes, but couldn’t detect a pulse.
She had climbed into the car beside Mr Horton to try to revive him.
Others quickly arrived to help, and liaising with control room staff after a 999 call for an ambulance, it was agreed to get Mr Horton out of the car to start cardio-pulmonary resuscitation until paramedics arrived.
But it was to no avail, and turning to Mr Horton’s widow, Tracey, in court, Mrs Llewellyn-Jones said: “I’m really sorry. I really did do everything possible.”
She was one of several witnesses to note that Mr Horton did not appear to be wearing a seat belt, and PC Hill said the absence of bruising from restraint under sudden deceleration supported this.
The coroner said: “It seems he may have stood a better chance if he had been wearing a seat belt.
“It would appear some sort of medical event occurred which caused him to go off the road, but we will never know.”
Mr Craze recorded a verdict of death due to a road traffic accident.