AN EXPERIENCED motorcyclist died after colliding with the back of a lorry when he was distracted by a paper bag that blew up from the road, an inquest heard.
Robert Simmonds, 49, of Blackmoor Walk, West Leigh, Havant, suffered fatal injuries to his chest and back following the horrific collision on the M27 westbound, close to junction 5 at Eastleigh.
The father-of-three, a crane operator, was riding to work in the New Forest on a route he had done dozens of times before.
An inquest in Southampton heard today that the clutch lever of Mr Simmonds’ Suzuki Bandit struck the wheel arch of a green Mercedes tipper lorry that was changing lane in front of him.
Mr Simmonds, known as Rob, lost control of the motorbike and crashed into the central reservation, sending him flying into the outside lane of the motorway.
However, seconds before, an eyewitness driver described seeing a brown paper bag on the motorway flying up on to Mr Simmonds’ chest.
Describing the incident, that took place at around 6.40am on August 14 last year, Malcolm Bourne, a HGV driver who was travelling behind, said: ‘It was a brown paper bag. It just took off into the air.
‘Mr Simmonds came alongside me in the motorway. The next thing I saw the brown paper bag landed right on his chest. It stuck to it.
‘He took his left hand off the handle bars. He took a grasp of taking the bag off his chest.
‘It must have taken him by surprise because it took him several attempts to take it off.’
Mr Bourne said the motorcyclist’s riding had been normal until that point, but then said the ‘movement on the handlebars became very erratic’.
Meanwhile, Andrew Redding, from Locks Heath, was driving the 32-tonne Mercedes Tipper lorry in lane one ahead and decided to overtake an articulated lorry.
Mr Redding told the inquest he checked his mirrors and believed that Mr Simmonds was in lane three.
The motoryclist was in fact riding in lane two at around 81mph, while the tipper lorry was travelling at around 57mph.
CCTV footage from the Highways Agency showed the motorbike colliding with the driver’s side wheel arch at the back of the lorry, before hurtling straight into the crash barriers, followed by a large cloud of dust.
Mr Redding said he heard a ‘loud bang’ but did not believe the motorbike had struck his lorry.
He drove on, but handed himself into police after hearing a radio appeal for a lorry driver.
Mr Redding was initially arrested on suspicion of death by careless driving, but no further action was taken after the examination of the CCTV footage, which clearly showed a piece of debris flying up into Mr Simmonds.
Another eyewitness driver, Carl Knight, from Lee-on-the-Solent, said the lorry came across very quickly with only a ‘slight indication’.
‘There was nowhere for him (Mr Simmonds) to go,’ he said.
‘I was saying “no, no, no”. I could see the lorry coming across and seeing what was about to happen.
‘The bike was a projectile missile into the central reservation. He just absolutely lost control.’
The inquest heard that Mr Simmonds had time to move into lane three to avoid a collision, but may have been distracted by the paper bag.
Other motorists rushed to his aide, followed by police and paramedics, but Mr Simmonds died at the scene.
Coroner Grahame Short said: ‘I am satisfied based on all the evidence I have heard and I have seen that there was a discarded bag or piece of brown paper in the middle of the carriageway and that was blown in the air by the draft caused by the lorries passing.
‘I also believe that was a significant factor in what subsequently happened.’
He said the Mr Simmonds was ‘there to be seen’ as he had his headlight illuminated and was wearing a coloured jacket.
‘There was a five second period and that was the time that the lorry was moving from one lane to the other,’ he said.
‘I think that Rob was distracted by the paper bag that had blown up and therefore was not conscious of the fact, at first, that the lorry was moving out in front of him.’
He said the clutch lever made contact with the wheel arch of the lorry and Mr Simmonds’ reaction was to brake, resulting in loss of control and colliding with the crash barrier.
Mr Short concluded the death was due to a road traffic collision.