On the 30th April 2008 Paula Small was driving her Fiat Punto along the B4632 between Weston-sub-Edge and Mickleton in Gloucestershire, when a Vauxhall Nova driven by Serena Sutton-Smith suddenly emerged from a side road, forcing Mrs Small to swerve onto the grass verge in order to avoid a collision. No doubt annoyed at this close shave with disaster Mrs Small flashed her headlights at Ms Sutton-Smith, who then stopped a short distance ahead.

Mrs Small then drove in front of the Nova, and parked some four car lengths ahead. She was at the point of getting out of her car, presumably in order to remonstrate with Ms Sutton-Smith regarding the standard of her driving, when there was a loud bang as the Vauxhall Nova was deliberately smashed into the rear of the Fiat. Mrs Small was momentarily dazed as she hit her head on the door frame at the time of the impact, and was shortly afterwards rendered "frozen with terror" as she later claimed, as Ms Sutton-Smith sat in her car bearing a "furious expression", as she revved her engine and grinded her Vauxhall Nova into the rear of the Fiat. As the front wheels of the Nova span furiously, one of the front tyres disintegrated, and the bare wheel began to gouge a hole into the tarmac throwing up a shower of sparks. This had the inevitable result of igniting one or more of the flammable liquids that can typically be found within the standard internal combustion engine which naturally set the whole car alight.

It was at this point that a local resident named Nicholas Willmore arrived at the scene and opened the driver's door of the Vauxhall Nova and tried to persuade Ms Sutton-Smith to get out of the car on the quite understandable grounds that it was about to burst into flames. Sadly, Ms Sutton-Smith, who was described as a "big built woman", simply shook her fist at him, told him to "fuck off, just fuck off", slammed the door shut, and continued to sit there revving the car's engine, apparently oblivious to the flames emerging from her vehicle.

Mr Willmore ran to his workshop nearby and fetched a fire extinguisher. This failed to have much impact on the fire. A passing motorist emptied his extinguisher with a similar result. During all this activity Ms Sutton-Smith refused to get out of the car, and sat there apparently consumed with anger as the flames engulfed her. By the time the Fire Brigade arrived and extinguished the blaze it was far too late for Ms Sutton-Smith, who was burnt almost beyond recognition.

At the inquest held into the incident the Gloucestershire coroner Alan Crickmore, concluded that the fire had started because of Serena Sutton-Smith's "deliberate actions" and that at "no time was she trapped in her vehicle", but that he was "far from satisfied" that it was "her clear intention that death would ensue", believing that it was "more likely than not" that she had simply "failed to understand the peril she was in and the consequences of her actions". He therefore recorded a verdict of accidental death.

"Whilst The Times viewed the incident as the "ultimate expression of road rage" and others ruminated over the dangers posed by women in small cars, the truth was that Ms Sutton-Smith suffered from bipolar disorder, or manic depression as it was once known, and could therefore become "extremely agitated". It therefore appeared that she had succeeded in propelling herself into such an emotional state that she couldn't appreciate the danger she was in until it was too late.


One minor point that might be worth mentioning is that of course, of the two car drivers involved in the incident on the B4632 on the 30th April 2008, only one survived to put forward their version of events. We shall therefore never know whether Serena Sutton-Smith might have given a slightly different account of the events that so enraged her on that day.


SOURCES

  • Woman burnt to death after setting her own car alight, Times, September 22, 2008
    http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/article4804007.ece
  • Road rage woman burned to death, Daily Mail, 23rd September 2008
    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1059512/Road-rage-woman-burned-death-setting-engine-alight-revving-hard-victim.html

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