A303 Dual It! Parents of crash victim Helen Kirk will not drive on deadly road
In a hard-hitting and emotive interview, a mother and father who lost their precious daughter in an horrific crash on the A303 tell reporter Rob Golledge how they can no longer face travelling on the road and why they are backing the Western Gazette’s campaign to dual it...
Helen Kirk had the world at her feet.
The talented actress, 24, had graduated from university with a first class degree and was fulfilling her dream performing under the stage names Helen Owen-Taylor and Helen Hezel at theatres across London.
But on Boxing Day 2005 all of that came to a premature and tragic end on the A303.
Helen was driving with her boyfriend Ben and brother Tom to Surrey after spending Christmas at her parents’ home in Shaldon in Devon.
At around 11.30am near Boxstone Hill she was killed in a crash on the notorious three-lane stretch of the Ilminster bypass.
This week, Helen’s parents Roger and Annie Kirk added their support to the Western Gazette’s campaign to dual the A303 and admitted they are still haunted by the road.
“We don’t drive on the road any more as we can’t face it,” said Mr Kirk.
“We go other ways around. The road is an extremely appalling trunk road.
“Whenever we go to London or south London we go up the M5 and along the M4 even though the logical way is along the A303.”
The couple believe the layout of the three-lane road played a significant role in the fatal crash.
Mr Kirk said he thinks Helen was startled when another vehicle pulled out behind her and sped past just after the lane she was travelling in split into two.
“Helen seems to have reacted to the vehicle and swung out to avoid a collision, lost control and tried to correct and went across the non-existent central barrier and ran into the path of a couple of cars coming the other way from the single carriageway lane,” he said.
“We think that cars speeding up as the lane opened into two was a factor in the accident.”
After receiving a harrowing phone call, the couple arrived at the scene to see firefighters and paramedics were still treating their daughter.
She was airlifted to hospital in Dorchester and the couple followed by car under police escort.
They were at her side when she died of multiple injuries later in the afternoon.
Two families travelling in convoy collided with Helen’s car and a total of eight people were taken to hospital, but their injuries were not serious.
Mr Kirk said that if the road had been a dual carriageway, Helen’s death could have been avoided.
“There was no central reservation,” he said.
“If there was one there would still have been an accident but the car would have bounced back and wouldn’t have passed into the path of the oncoming vehicles.
“Something could have been done to prevent our precious girl being taken away from us.”
Helen’s death led her parents and her boyfriend Ben to start The Helen Foundation, an arts-based charity to support and motivate young people in the Teignbridge area of South Devon to reach their dreams.
The charity gives out grants and bursaries, especially to talented and aspirational performers who lack financial support.
Patrons of the foundation include rock superstars Muse who were friends with Helen and her brother.
Their album Black Holes And Revelations carries a dedication to Helen.
Mr Kirk, 63, and his wife, 65, said they had no reservations about backing the Western Gazette’s campaign to dual the A303.
“You never think it is going to happen to you,” he said.
“We will support anything that can be done to prevent other families from having to go through what we did.
“Any accident to any person is going to have a huge impact on family and friends.
“It has been devastating and has affected us profoundly and has left a lifelong impact on us and our two boys.
“You just never get over it. You don’t come to terms with it you just live with it.”
“The idea that there is a very good business case to improve the road providing work to the region as well as making essential safety measures that will save lives and create a road that is fit for purpose seems to us a very good reason to support the Western Gazette’s campaign.
“At the moment there is huge debate about the HS2 high speed rail links. The West Country and the East has totally been neglected.
“In the scheme of national planning, a safe and fast route to London from the West Country which is of dual carriageway or motorway standard is a no brainer.”
Paying tribute to their daughter, Mr and Mrs Kirk said: “What sense can we make of Helen’s death? The only way we can go forward is to live our lives as she did, making the very best of everyday.
“Message after message, letter after letter, card after card express a common theme. This young woman was special, exceptional.
“Her smile that everyone responded to so directly came out of an intense inner joy in life. She lived her life as I hope to live mine, not seeing joy as something you only get after doing something else, an end goal, but as the very way you should live your life, the journey and not the destination.
“Her life was short, far, far, far too short. We shall never know what further she could have achieved as actor, wife, mother, friend, teacher.
“But she lived a life few of us can hope to match in its intensity. Person after person reports on the sheer vivacity, the sheer pace she lived her life, the radiance and the energy that poured from her.
“As the Nepalese saying puts it – ‘Better to have lived one day as a lion than a hundred years as a sheep’.
“She was a true lion, our Helen. In the words of Shakespeare, who himself lost a much-loved child, ‘May flights of angels sing thee to thy rest’.”
For more details about Helen’s story and the charitable work of The Helen Foundation you can visit www.thehelenfoundation.org.uk.
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