THE driver of a car which plunged into a swollen river killing him and his friend had been drinking prior to the crash and was alive when the car was found.
Martyn Windsor, 25, had been driving a blue Peugeot 306 with his friend Paul Bovey, 24, in the passenger seat when it crashed into the River Mole some time on October 12 2012.
An inquest into their deaths heard evidence from investigation officers as well as the family who found the car several hours after it had crashed.
Martyn and Paul, who both lived in South Molton, had visited a pub called The Royal Oak Inn in Withypool on Exmoor prior to the crash.
Barman Anthony Blackmoor spoke at the inquest to say he had first spotted the pair in the bar between 7pm and 7.30pm on October 11.
He had seen them drinking a pint each before going on to serve them both a further three pints, meaning they had each had around four pints in total, although Mr Blackmoor said this could have been more.
He confirmed he saw a car which could have been Martyn’s drive away from the pub in the North Molton direction around midnight.
It was not until the early hours of the next morning that Sally Darley, who runs a farm in North Molton, was driving towards South Molton with her husband and children when she noticed mud debris on the road.
In a statement read out at the inquest she said her husband, who was driving, stopped the car while her son looked out the window and spotted a car in the river below.
“I then ran to the bank,” said Mrs Darley, “but Ben said “mum don’t look he is dead.”
“I walked around the river as it was swollen and the car was on its side.”
Mrs Darley’s husband had gone to get a phone signal and ring the emergency services by this point.
“I saw a man in his mid 20s hanging on the driver’s side out of the window,” she added. “I went on to the mud bank and started talking to him, reassuring him that help was on the way.
“I don’t remember seeing any blood. The car was a mess and I thought how were they going to get him out.”
The first paramedic arrived at around 8.20am, but Paul was already dead.
Martyn was transferred to North Devon Hospital but died from his injuries a few hours later.
Upon investigation, forensic vehicle examiner John Snow said in a statement that the front near side tyre was below the minimum tread depth of 1.6mm.
He also said it appeared Paul had not been wearing a seatbelt while Martyn had been wearing one.
Collision investigator Paul Frost said the car had likely been travelling at too high a speed for Martyn to have controlled it.
He added he had considered the evidence in terms of alcohol and stated if Martyn had drunk the same as Paul, which it was believed he did, he would have been over the limit to drive.
Paul’s alcohol level was recorded at 110 milligrams per 100 millilitres of blood. The legal driving limit is 80.
“It is possible Mr Windsor was driving while in excess of the minimum level,” added Mr Frost. “It is my opinion a combination of heavy rain, surface water, a defective tyre and intoxication of liquor contributed to the crash.
In his conclusion coroner Dr John Tomalin said it was a “very sad situation” in which two young men died in circumstances that raised “significant questions” in the minds of their friends, family and the investigating officers.
“I am mindful that they had gone out for the evening to the Royal Oak pub which was some 10 miles away from where they left the road,” he added. "Martyn was driving at the time of the crash. They had both been drinking alcohol and we have heard evidence they consumed four pints each.
“We have no other evidence about what they may have drunk other than what we have heard. PC Frost has given us his estimation of the likely level in Martyn’s blood based on evidence taken at the time from his toxicology report.”
He went on to say Martyn may have been over the drink drive limit but added there was no way of being certain.
He also said the exact time of the collision could not be determined.
“We do know from a statement that Martyn had been texted by a friend to the effect of telling him not to drink and drive,” added Dr Tomalin.
He continued: “There is not one single factor here we can identify that is wholly causative of the collision.
“The injuries that Martyn received, if he had been found earlier, may have been survivable, but we cannot be certain. If Paul had been wearing a seatbelt his injuries may have been less but again we cannot know.
“Weighing up all the evidence I think the correct conclusion for me to record is they died as a result of an accident.”
Speaking after the inquest Paul's mother Jackie Brealy said: "Today marks the end of our son Paul's life, and the beginning of a life sentence with no parole for me, my husband and the rest of our family.
"If a man loses his wife he's known as a widow, if a woman loses her husband she's known as a widower. There isn't a name for a parent who loses their child as this should never happen and we need to take urgent steps to prevent so many young people from dying on our roads. It has to stop.
"Paul loved his family to bits. He was the kindest soul you could ever wish to meet, had a wicked sense of humour, and was loved by so many.
"He was utterly dependable and would help out anyone in need. His greatest passion in life was animals, and he wouldn't have knowingly harmed any living creature.
"He lived life to the full and just before he died was making plans to fulfill his dream to live and work in Australia with native animals.
"Losing your child changes you and your life forever, and nothing can ever prepare you for that. We have to live the rest of our live knowing that we weren't able to do anything to save Paul, but to keep Paul's memory alive and help us all to carry on without him, I have set up an organisation in memory of him called PAULY, to try and save other youngsters like him.