Car that crashed into kitchen in Bishop's Stortford came within 18 inches of causing potential major gas blast
A car that smashed into the kitchen of a house in Bishop’s Stortford, moments after one of the occupants had been in there, came within 18 inches of causing a potentially deadly gas explosion.
A Saab driver in his 60s was treated at the scene for only minor injuries after he crashed into a parked car, shunting it into a house, before ploughing on into the neighbouring property late last Sunday morning (May 16).
Tracey and Neil Cornell’s rented home in Court Close, off Waytemore Road on the Havers estate, took the full force of the impact, suffering an estimated £200,000 damage.
The couple and their dog Sasha have been moved into hotel accommodation by Orbit Housing Association.
Surveyors who inspected the building said that the car just avoided hitting gas pipes and a boiler, and that it would take several months to make the semi-detached safe to live in.
Tracey, 53, who has lived there since it was built 23 years ago, and Neil, 56, had marked their sixth wedding anniversary the Friday before (May 14).
On Sunday, Neil was at home with the dog while Tracey was working at the Port Jackson pub in Riverside Wharf. He was feeling unwell ahead of a kidney operation, which he underwent at Harlow’s Princess Alexandra Hospital on Monday, and got a glass of water from the kitchen before returning to the lounge.
“He’d just sat down and taken a sip when there was this almighty bang,” said Tracey.
“He and the dog leapt off the sofa and he noticed what he thought was smoke coming from the kitchen. He put the dog in the garden so that she was safe and when he peered in as the dust settled he realised there was a car in the kitchen!
“The surveyor said if the car had hit 18 inches to the left it would have hit the gas pipes with the potential to cause a major explosion, taking out our house and next door.
“If the car had gone to the right of our house down the alleyway between us and next door it would have hit the gas box.
“If anyone was inside, that would’ve been it. My husband, dog, next-door neighbours would all have died. Someone up there was looking out for them.”
Police, fire and rescue and ambulance crews were called at 11.48am. Neighbours rushed to help the car driver and Mr Cornell.
Witnesses described seeing the car mount the pavement at speed then hit a parked car, shunting it into the downstairs toilet of the Cornells’ neighbours’ house, before ploughing through their front kitchen wall. Three parked cars as well as the two houses were damaged in the incident.
The first Tracey knew about the drama was when she got home from work to be greeted by two fire engines, six police cars, ambulances and dozens of onlookers in the road.
“As I walked towards what was happening people started turning round to look at me. I then saw my dad come towards me. He said ‘They’re both fine, but there’s a car in your kitchen’. I was the last one to find out!
“Our kitchen is a write-off, but Orbit Housing Association has been brilliant and got us into a hotel for the first night. We’ve had everyone on site: builders, bigwigs from Orbit who came down to see the scene on Monday, East Herts Council, district councillor Norma Symonds, who said East Herts would help out if we needed it – everyone’s been brilliant.
“Neighbours have offered to do our washing for us, offered us a spare room, even to look after the dog. It’s been amazing and we’re really grateful.”
Orbit confirmed on Tuesday (May 18) that the couple could stay at the Ramada Hotel at Birchanger Green services while repairs to the house are carried out. Tracey said she had made it feel like home, putting up their anniversary cards.
“It’s going to take three to four months to fix the house. They’ve got to take the whole of the front of the house off, downstairs and upstairs, and take it a quarter of the way back to rebuild it, reinstall gas pipes and the boiler – absolutely everything.”
Neil is expected out of hospital in the next couple of days. Tracey said doctors wanted to make sure he had recovered both from the operation and the shock of the accident.
The Cornells' neighbours, the Windmill family, have been forced to stay with friends and family as their home, also an Orbit Housing Association property, suffered serious damage too. They are hoping that Orbit will arrange temporary accommodation at the Jolly Brewers in town.
Husband and father Paul, 58, a maintenance man for Bishop's Stortford Town Council, was at an allotment at the time and rushed home when he heard there had been a crash. His wife Michelle, 44, works for solicitors Nockolds.
Their two children, aged 16 and 22, were upstairs at the time.
A crew from Bishop’s Stortford fire station attended along with a specialist crew from Hitchin to ensure the house’s stability while the car was recovered. Stortford crew commander Dean Hunt said that they were met with a scene of “substantial damage”.
A spokesman for Hertfordshire police said: “The driver of the vehicle received treatment from paramedics for minor injuries. He was not arrested or charged with anything.”