Coroner: ‘Safety procedures not in place’ at time of go-karting racetrack tragedy

AN “out of hours” go-karting session ended in a tragedy when a “fun loving girl” was strangled to death after her scarf became trapped in kart’s engine.

Suzanne Cornwell was 18 when she and a group of friends went go-karting after close of business hours at a track in Caxton on December 10, 2009, after being invited by employee Andy Kivlin.

She failed to complete even one lap before her scarf tangled in the engine, choking her as her go kart came to a stop at the side of track. An ambulance was called that evening but she died in Addenbrooke’s Hospital the next day.

Today, Coroner David Morris recorded a narrative verdict that the teenager who lived in Hardwick died at the racetrack “when acceptable safety procedures were not then in place”.

The inquest heard that Mr Kivlin, who had turned off the CCTV which watched the track before he and his friends started racing, had made “significant failings” in ensuring Suzanne had removed her scarf and that her go-kart was the right size for her. The inquest heard at 5’1” Suzanne could have been too small to reach the pedals but Mr Morris rejected this hypothesis in his verdict.

Before making his verdict Mr Morris, sitting at Huntingdon Law Courts, said he would not address a conclusion of unlawful killing as there was “not sufficient evidence” to form a case of manslaughter by gross negligence on the part of Mr Kivlin or the company, Cambridgeshire Raceway.

In a family statement Suzanne was described as a “fun loving girl” whose death was “totally avoidable”. Her death left a “hole that can never be filled”, it read.

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Over two days, the inquest was told of the confusion surrounding the rules for out of hours driving for staff and their friends, sometimes referred to “playtime”. Mr Morris heard evidence from owner Phil Meakins who said nobody should have been on the track if neither he, manager Paul Shinn or employee Natasha Pretorius were present.

But Mr Kivlin said this was not the case and racing with friends was fine as long as permission was sought from any of his three superiors.

Mr Morris heard how Mr Kivlin was “very good at his job” and a “diamond bloke” but had not noticed the scarf Suzanne was wearing that night.

“Andy helped [Suzanne] with her helmet and saw her into her seat,” Mr Morris said, summing up.

“She was in a sufficient comfortable position to drive though not wearing overalls. Suzanne was in the last batch to go and it appears that she did not complete a single circuit she stopped at the side, she was not waiting for something, she had actually been strangled by her scarf.

“It’s difficult to conclude why the scarf was not noticed.”

Though Mr Morris said he did not intend to cite any liability, he said Mr Kivlin’s decision to kart that night was not “so out of kilter and outrageous” as to be a “unique frolic of his own” and that his employers cannot shirk responsibility for the way in which out of hours drives occurred.

A pathologist found Suzanne died from ligature strangulation.

A separate investigation by South Cambridgeshire District Council into the accident is ongoing.