Cardiff crash victims had ‘taken laughing gas and were drinking’

Victims of a tragic car crash that killed three people and injured others had been drinking and inhaling laughing gas before the fatal accident, a friend told police. Rafel Jeanne, 24, Darcy Ross, 21, and Eve Smith, 21, died while two other passengers survived with serious injuries.

A sixth passenger, Joel Lia, had driven the same car earlier that evening and was later charged with driving offences. Court papers revealed he described the victims as being “intoxicated”.

‌The incident occurred on the A48(M) near the St Mellons area of Cardiff at about 02:00 on March 4 when a Volkswagen Tiguan veered off a slip road approaching a roundabout and came to rest in a small copse of trees. The five friends were found around 46 hours after the crash happened due the wreckage being hidden.

The group had been on a night out at The Muffler social club in Maesglas, Newport, the nighe before and then travelled in the Tiguan just under 40 miles (64km) to the Trecco Bay Caravan Park, Porthcawl, where they are said to have spent some time in one of the caravans on site.

‌A noise complaint was made to the park’s security lodge about the group. Court papers reveal the group had been drinking alcohol and inhaling nitrous oxide – also known as laughing gas – prior to the collision.

The details emerged in a behind-closed-doors hearing at Cardiff Magistrates’ Court for Joel Lia, the sixth member of the group, who had been driving the Tiguan an hour before the crash.

‌Lia, 28, of Rumney, Cardiff, was charged with driving without a licence or insurance in Porthcawl. His case is being dealt with under a system known as the single justice procedure, where magistrates handle non-custodial criminal prosecutions in private rather than open court.

‌Det Con Joanne Mahony took a witness statement from Lia in which he admitted driving the car even though he did not have a full UK licence. CCTV from a petrol station in Porthcawl showed the Tiguan pulling on to the forecourt at 01.08am and leaving three minutes later.

‌Police document stated: “On stopping at the garage, Joel Lia exits the rear offside of the vehicle and, when the driver exits the driver’s seat, Joel Lia then enters the driver’s seat. He then drives the vehicle off the forecourt.”

The papers further explained that DC Mahony, the officer in the case, took a signed statement from Lia in which he admitted driving without holding a full UK licence.

‌It added: “All other persons in the vehicle were intoxicated, by Joel’s admission, as they had been drinking alcohol and inhaling nitrous oxide throughout the course of the evening. The vehicle did not display L plates which can be seen on CCTV. The officer in the case has reviewed the CCTV as part of this unrelated case and can positively identify Joel Lia as the person entering the driver’s seat.”

‌Lia pleaded guilty to both charges and the case was adjourned until 24 August. An initial inquest was told that the three who died were declared dead at the scene of the crash.

‌The hearing was adjourned to await the findings of further histology (tissue and cell study) and toxicology tests.

‌Gwent Police and South Wales Police are currently subject to an investigation by the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) over how long it took to find the car. 

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