Son mourns text-crash mum

BELINDA FEEK
Last updated 05:00 21/12/2012
Eliot Jessep/Paula Jessep
TV3

eWithout a mum: Eliot Jessep has been shattered by the death of his mother Paula who died in a car crash last year. The coroner found Ms Jessep was probably texting while driving.

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A Hamilton woman who died while texting and driving sent 19 texts within a 45-minute period leading up to the crash, police have revealed at an inquest into her death.

The crash shattered the life of her only child, Eliot, just before Christmas last year and yesterday he made a plea for drivers to pay more attention when behind the wheel.

Tomorrow will mark a year since single mother Paula Adele Jessep, 37, died after colliding head-on with a southbound vehicle carrying three young women, on State Highway 1, just north of Tirau.

"This time last year I was living at home," Eliot said.

"I wasn't so grown-up. [Mum's death] has made me grow up quicker than I should be."

The Rotorua Coroner's Court heard yesterday that conditions on the night of the crash were atrocious, with heavy rain lashing the road - even police had to slow down as they made their way to the scene.

Officer in charge of the case, Taupo road policing manager Senior Sergeant Fane Troy yesterday said, in their road crash report, Ms Jessep was texting when her vehicle veered into the southbound lane and crashed.

They ruled out all other conditions, including the weather, as a factor.

The rear passenger had the most serious injuries in the other car but all were trapped inside.

On inspecting Ms Jessep's vehicle, police found her flip-style cellphone in the driver's footwell area of the car.

Mr Troy said when he opened the cellphone there was a partially written text, "where are them".

At the request of Coroner Wallace Bain, Mr Troy counted that Ms Jessep had sent 19 text between 9.30pm and 10.15pm, the estimated time of the crash.

The court heard Ms Jessep, who worked for St John ambulance as a regional community care manager, had stopped in Tirau and called several friends, before carrying on her way to Hamilton after visiting Rotorua for a funeral.

Eliot, 17, told Coroner Bain although there were texts on her phone, heat inside the car could have caused her to become tired and distracted.

He said the crash report had shown that her air conditioning had been set on high, which, having travelled with her often, would have made her "hot and distracted".

He suggested that could have slowed her reaction times if she was texting, especially given the low visibility on the night.

Coroner Bain said there was evidence Ms Jessep had been texting during her journey but they couldn't be 100 per cent certain she was texting at the time of impact.

Eliot said he had been distancing himself from a project, The Text Can Wait, set up by two of the girls injured in the crash, because he was yet to receive closure over his mum's death and wanted to wait until the inquest had been held.

Ms Jessep's mother Bernadine said her daughter was the "most loving, caring, kind" person who was forever helping people.

"She would never hurt anyone and the fact other people were involved [in the crash] would have been absolutely devastating for her. We can't bring her back but we pray that she may be left to rest in peace."

A post mortem examination found that Ms Jessep had died due to a severe head injury, spinal cord tear, bruised lungs and blood loss. Coroner Bain reserved his decision but is likely to release it in the new year.

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Meanwhile, with the holiday period fast approaching, Mr Troy urged motorists to avoid using their phones at all.

"We just encourage people, if they're travelling, to turn their phone off, put it in the glove box and don't answer it."

He said some hands free kits required the driver to take their eyes off the road.

- Waikato Times

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