Page last updated at 14:25 GMT, Thursday, 5 March 2009

Cliff fall death driver 'a hero'

Family photograph of Michael John Meehan
Mr Meehan swerved to avoid stationary traffic

A digger driver who was killed when his vehicle plunged down a cliff in Bristol has been praised for his bravery by the coroner at his inquest.

Michael Meehan's JCB fell 70ft (21m) after he was forced to swerve trying to avoid stationary traffic in rain but crashed through a wall.

The coroner recorded an accidental death verdict after Mr Meehan, 53, of Filton, crashed on 28 May last year.

Coroner Brian Whitehouse said: "His quick reaction deserves credit."

He praised father-of-four Mr Meehan's quick thinking and said it was miraculous no one else had been hurt in the accident on Bridge Valley Road.

Digger on road
The digger skidded before tumbling down the cliff

The inquest was told Mr Meehan, who had two daughters and two sons, was travelling at about 25mph when he saw the stationary traffic.

He swerved and lowered the digger's bucket to slow it down but lost control and smashed through a wall.

Motorists saw boulders and rocks crash down onto the A4 Portway before watching the digger plummet with its driver sitting helpless in the cab, Flax Bourton Coroners Court was told.

Geoffrey Woodland was travelling behind when he saw the seven-and-a-half tonne JCB turn and drift across the road.

In a statement read to the court, he said he thought the wall would halt the vehicle.

"The wall just collapsed and the JCB continued over the edge and disappeared," he said.

"I knew then that he did not stand a chance. He deliberately wanted to move the JCB from the traffic and took avoiding action that resulted in this tragedy."

Mr Meehan's widow speaks of her busband's bravery.

Sharon Doughty was driving on the Portway when the JCB appeared from above.

"I saw this yellow digger falling towards the road in front of me, I could see the driver was motionless and wasn't screaming.

"I stopped the car and froze with shock, I couldn't believe how close it had been to hitting my car."

The father-of-four died instantly after the JCB landed on its roof.

He was driving back to employers ETM Contractors in Winterstoke Road at the time of the accident.

An inspection of the digger found no faults with the steering or braking.

Speaking after the inquest Mr Meehan's wife Jenny said he had died a hero.

"He saved other people, he could have taken other people out as well.

"He was an extremely competent driver, so he knew what he was doing, but unfortunately driving cost him his life."

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