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University of Kent at Canterbury student Bihari Payagala died after being hit by car in St Stephen's Hill

By Gerry Warren

A Kent Police accident investigator has told an inquest that a student who was knocked down by a car and killed in Canterbury may have been distracted by the music headphones she was wearing.

Bihari Payagala, 20, who was studying sociology at the University of Kent, was walking to the campus from her digs on the Hales Place estate when the tragedy happened.

She was struck by a "glancing blow" by a Ford Fiesta as she stepped of the kerb to cross St Stephen's Hill on the afternoon of February 23, 2012.

She suffered a serious head injury and died at the scene despite the efforts of medics to save her.

Student Birahi Payagala died from her injuries in Canterbury

But Angela Holmes, who investigated the accident for Kent Police, told the hearing in Sandwich on Wednesday that the head phones may have "presented a distraction to her crossing the road."

She said: "This was not a high speed collision. There is no evidence the Ford Fiesta was being driven in anything but a careful manner."

"There was 65 yards clear visability up the hill and Miss Payagala should have been able to see the on-coming car.

"In my opinion, Miss Payagala failed to identify a safe gap in the traffic and from the moment she stepped off the pavement, a collision was unavoidable."

A detailed investigation of the scene and Fiesta found no road or vehicle defects that would have contributed to the collision, she added.

The Fiesta was being driven down the hill by pensioner Tony Kennett whose wife Carole was in the passenger seat.

He told coroner Rebecca Cobb that he noticed students walking up the hill but not Miss Payagala specificially.

He said he was going no faster than 30mph, adding: "You have to go slow down because of the speed humps.

"The first I was aware of the accident was when he heard a bang from the nearside of his car. I stopped as quickly and as safely as I could."

The scene of the crash which killed Bihari Payagala in 2012

In her evidence, Mrs Kennett said: "I didn't see her but heard a bang. My husband stopped the car and got out and ran round to her. She was being attended by other people.

"I heard one girl say 'it wasn't your fault, she just stepped out'."

Former student Alison Claffey was walking up the hill on the opposite side of the road with fellow student Aesha Bubb when it happened.

She told Miss Cobb: "I saw her walking up the hill in my peripheral vision and look left down the hill and then step out.

"The car hit her and she went up over the bonnet. I remember seeing the car and thinking 'why did she step out'?

"It's quite a busy road and it can take quite a few minutes to cross."

Miss Bubb told the coroner she had also noticed Miss Payagala walking up the hill.

She said: "I saw her walk up and then down and then make a movement to step into the road, but I looked ahead at that point.

"I saw a car coming towards us and than heard a sound and saw her in the air. I immediately called an ambulance on my phone and ran across to her. She was lying on her back on the pavement.

"Other people were there and someone had placed a book under her head. The ambulance took a fair bit of time to come, which I was growing concerned about."

Bihari Payagala, left, with best friend Lara Coker-Hutchins

Kelly Day was driving home to Canterbury from Whitstable when she pulled up behind the crash scene in St Stephen's Hill.

"Miss Payagala failed to identify a safe gap in the traffic and from the moment she stepped off the pavement, a collision was unavoidable" - police accident investigator

She told the coroner she was first aid trained so went to help the student.

She said: "I saw she was wearing pink headphones and had to remove them to put her in the recovery position."

PC Malcolm Jackson was the first police officer on the scene. In his statement he said he tried to reassure the injured student she would be ok.

He said: "It was clear her injuries were very serious and she was fighting for her life.

"I was applying pressure to a head wound and tried to reassure her and said she was in good hands and would be OK, but her breathing became shallow.

"Doctors arrived and took over and said her condition was life threatening and she was later pronounced dead."

The hearing continues.

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