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Fatal crash group were drinking and inhaling nitrous oxide, friend tells police

09 Aug 2023 4 minute read
The scene in the St Mellons area of Cardiff where three people who disappeared on a night out died in a road traffic accident. Photo PA Images

The occupants of car which crashed in Cardiff killing three people had been drinking and inhaling nitrous oxide prior to the incident, a friend told police.

Driver Rafel Jeanne, 24, and passengers Darcy Ross, 21, and Eve Smith, 21, died in the crash, while the two remaining passengers, Sophie Russon, 20, and Shane Loughlin, 32, were injured but survived.

The accident happened on the A48(M) near the St Mellons area of Cardiff at 2.03am on Saturday March 4 this year when a Volkswagen Tiguan veered off a slip road approaching a roundabout and came to rest in a small copse of trees.

The five were discovered on Monday March 6, around 46 hours after the crash happened.

The length of time taken by Gwent Police and South Wales Police to find the group, who were reported missing by family members, is the subject of an ongoing investigation by the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC).

The group had been on a night out at The Muffler social club in Maesglas, Newport, on March 3 and then travelled in the Volkswagen Tiguan just under 40 miles to the Trecco Bay Caravan Park in Porthcawl, where they are said to have spent some time in one of the caravans on site.

A noise complaint was made to the park’s security lodge about the group, the PA news agency understands.

Pentwyn

They left the site a short time later and were last seen at about 2am in the Pentwyn area of Cardiff, dropping off a sixth member of their group.

Court papers reveal that the group had been drinking alcohol and inhaling nitrous oxide – also known as laughing gas – prior to the collision.

The details emerged in a behind-closed-doors hearing at Cardiff Magistrates’ Court for Joel Lia, the sixth member of the group, who had been driving the Volkswagen Tiguan an hour before the crash.

Lia, 28, of Rumney, Cardiff, was charged with driving without a licence or insurance in Porthcawl.

His case is being dealt with under a system known as the single justice procedure, where magistrates handle non-custodial criminal prosecutions in private rather than open court.

PA applied to the court for the prosecution documents relating to Lia’s case.

Detective Constable Joanne Mahony took a witness statement from Lia in which he admitted driving the car even though he did not have a licence.

“During the course of the statement, Joel stated that he had driven along the M4 from Porthcawl to his sister’s address in Llanederyn at approximately 1am on March 4,” she said.

“Whilst the interview was not monitored, Lia asked me if anything would happen to him as he knew he did not hold a full UK driving licence and he had admitted driving.

“In light of this investigation CCTV inquiries were conducted along the route of the M4 towards Cardiff to capture the vehicle.”

CCTV

CCTV from a petrol station in Porthcawl showed the Volkswagen Tiguan pulling on to the forecourt at 1.08am and leaving three minutes later.

“On stopping at the garage, Joel Lia exits the rear offside of the vehicle and, when the driver exits the driver’s seat, Joel Lia then enters the driver’s seat. He then drives the vehicle off the forecourt,” police documents state.

The papers go on to say that DC Mahony, the officer in the case, took a signed statement from Lia in which he admitted driving without holding a full UK licence.

“All other persons in the vehicle were intoxicated, by Joel’s admission, as they had been drinking alcohol and inhaling nitrous oxide throughout the course of the evening,” the documents state.

“The vehicle did not display L plates which can be seen on CCTV. The officer in the case has reviewed the CCTV as part of this unrelated case and can positively identify Joel Lia as the person entering the driver’s seat.”

Lia pleaded guilty to both charges and the case was adjourned until August 24.

An initial inquest was told that the three who died were declared dead at the scene of the crash.

The hearing was adjourned to await the findings of further histology and toxicology tests.


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