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Canterbury coroner rejects call for pedestrian crossing after death of University of Kent student Birahi Payagala

By Gerry Warren

A coroner has refused to recommend a pedestrian crossing on a busy road in Canterbury where a student was killed.

Birahi Payagala, 20, who was studying sociology at the University of Kent, died after being hit by Ford Fiesta in St Stephen's Hill in Canterbury.

Student Birahi Payagala died from her injuries in Canterbury
Student Birahi Payagala died from her injuries in Canterbury

A petition calling for a crossing was started up following the tragedy in February 2012.

But at the conclusion of a three-day inquest in Sandwich today coroner Rebecca Cobb said the evidence from Kent County Council highway officers clearly indicated it was not necessary.

The inquest also heard that Miss Payagala was wearing in-ear headphones which police who investigated the accident said may have distracted her.

They also concluded the driver Tony Kennett was blameless and had no time to react to Miss Payagala stepping off the kerb.

A woman driver who stopped and went to the student's aid had to remove the earphones from her ears to put her in the recovery position.

Recording a verdict of accidental death, Miss Cobb said: "I fully appreciate the substantial public wish for a crossing, but that is quite different from me having concerns about future risk to lives.

"The evidence does not lead to any such concerns nor do the particular circumstances of Miss Payagala's death."

Legal representatives for Miss Payagala's family had argued that the road was unsafe to cross, especially as it was heavily used by students.

The family of Birahi Payagala - mother Sumedha, father Don and brother Osura
The family of Birahi Payagala - mother Sumedha, father Don and brother Osura

But Kent County Council traffic schemes officer Andrew Corcoran said it had been the only serious accident involving a pedestrian in 20 years and did not meet the criteria for crossing lights.

He added that from pedestrian and traffic counts taken after the accident, it was the only serious incident involving a pedestrian in an estimated five million crossings of the road since 1994.

He also said that a crossing would not necessarily make it safer as statistics showed that one in five pedestrian accidents happen on crossings.

The tragedy happened as Miss Payagala walked to the university campus from her student digs on the Hales Place estate.

She was initially treated at the scene by private ambulance technicians.

Solicitors for the Payagala family questioned why it had taken so long for a paramedic-crewed ambulance to arrive.

A representative of the South East Coast Ambulance Service admitted paramedics had to come from near Ashford.

But a pathologist who carried out the post mortem on Miss Payagala said her head injury was "not survivable".

Speaking after the hearing Bihari's parents Don and Sumedha Payagala and brother Osura from Middlesex said: "We remain devastated by Bihari's death and we're concerned about the lack of a pedestrian crossing on a dangerous road used by so many university students.

"We would also like the speed to be reduced to 20mph on that stretch of road.

"Residents and students have been campaigning for road safety measures for so many years."

Paying tribute to his daughter,Bihari's father Don added: "She was a lovely kind, fun loving girl who wanted to do a lot of work for charity. Our lives will never be the same."

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