Van driver killed by tree is named


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The Independent Online

A van driver who was killed when a huge beech tree crushed his parked van in high winds was named by police today.

Married father-of-three Christopher Hayes, 51, was pronounced dead at the scene after the tree toppled in Sandhurst Road, Tunbridge Wells, Kent, at 12.25pm yesterday.

According to one local, a passenger in the van escaped injury after he bent down to pick up a lighter at the point when the tree fell.

The incident happened as winds of more than 100mph buffeted the country, bringing chaos to travellers returning to work after the festive break.

Kent Police said Mr Hayes, of Kings Road, Tonbridge, was a well-known businessman who owned a local building firm in the area for more than 30 years.


Mr Hayes, who had been working with his colleague in the area at the time the tree fell, leaves a wife to whom he was married for 26 years, a son and two daughters.

A police spokesman said the family were "coming to terms with the sudden and unexpected loss of a loved partner and father" and asked for privacy.

A post-mortem examination will be held tomorrow as officers from Kent Police's serious collision investigation unit examine the background to the incident.

The road was closed until 8pm yesterday to allow emergency teams to clear the scene and deal with a second tree amid fears that it might topple.

Some residents on the road had to be evacuated due to the danger posed by the other tree but were allowed back into their homes once it was deemed safe.

Meanwhile, Gary Heasman said Mr Hayes's passenger had a lucky escape from the falling tree.

He told BBC South East Today: "The thing that saved his life was that he dropped his lighter on the floor and went down to get it at exactly the same time as the tree came down."

Mr Heasman also revealed that he and a friend frantically helped free the man who escaped injury.

He said: "Initially my daughter heard the noise of the tree coming down and then I saw out of the window that the tree was straight across the van.

"Me and a friend ran out there. We wasn't expecting to see anyone in the van but there were two people and one was trying to get out.

"We just did our best to get him out. We tried to pull the door open but we couldn't do that so we just went back to the van and got a crowbar out and smashed the side window and pulled him out.

"He was in a panicked state, like you would be."

Kent Police asked anyone who saw the incident to call their serious collision investigation unit on 01622 798538.