Motorway ‘monotony’ could have caused death of woman on M1 through Northamptonshire, claims mother

Jessie Belmonte died on July 31, 2015 after sustaining neck injuries in a car crash at junction 15 of the M1.
Jessie Belmonte died on July 31, 2015 after sustaining neck injuries in a car crash at junction 15 of the M1.

A kayak instructor who died after colliding into the back of a lorry on the M1 through Northamptonshire may have been lulled into “tunnel vision” by the roadworks, according to her mother.

Jessie Belmonte, was only 25 when she crashed and sustained fatal neck injuries between junction 14 and 15 of the northbound carriageway of the motorway, at around 12.30am on July 31, last year.

An inquest at Northampton General Hospital yesterday heard how the Transit van she was driving collided with the back of a stationary lorry at just over 80 mph, sustaining a “colossal impact”.

However, the inquest could not give a definitive reason as to how Miss Belmonte did not see the stationary truck ahead of her.

In a statement her mother, Juli Hewins called for the Highways Agency to review the barriers it uses in the lengthy 50mph roadwork stretches seen up and down the country, as she said they could have created a “tunnel effect,” which affected her daughter’s concentration at the time.

She said: “It is so easy to be lulled to sleep by those barriers.

“Could something be done to change the layout of those barriers, especially when there is no one working on them and the roadworks stretch for miles?”

Coroner Hassan Shah could not conclude that Miss Belmonte had fallen asleep at the wheel, but having had a long day at work and having met friends earlier that evening he said it was “entirely possible Jessie had been tired.”

Collision investigator PC Brian Johnson, was also satisfied that the lorry in front of Miss Belmonte had not braked suddenly.

It is possible Miss Belmonte would have been 700 metres away when the hazard lights were first put on, he told the inquest.

Although Miss Belmonte had bee to the pub with friends earlier, a toxicity report confirmed that she had no alcohol in her system, and statement provided from her boss stated the 25-year-old had only drunk lemonade at the pub near her place of work in Lee.

PC Johnson said the speedometer of the van had been “frozen” at just over 80 mph on impact and said there were no “brake marks” leading up to the back of the lorry.

He added that it was unlikely Miss Belmonte had fallen asleep as before the collision she had navigated a slight turn in the road.

“The monotony of driving on a motorway can make you sleepy,” he said.

Mrs Hewins described her daughter as the most “wonderful human being.”

“She always had a big beautiful smile on her face and the most contagious giggle,” she added.

Miss Belmonte, from Willoughby in Warwickshire, worked as a kayak instructor at Lee Valley White Water Centre in Hertfordshire. She had been due to go on a training exercise in Austria the following day after her accident.

Following a brief respite, the Highways Agency is soon set to re-install the 50mph limit between junctions 16 and 19 of the M1 to turn the stretch into a “smart motorway.”