Tunbridge Wells tree crush passenger 'saved by lighter'

A passenger in a van that was crushed by a tree, killing the driver, has told of how he was saved as he bent down to pick up a lighter.

Christopher Hayes, 51, died as a beech tree fell on the van cab in high winds in Tunbridge Wells on Tuesday.

Passenger Barry Martin said he had rolled a cigarette, reached for a lighter and heard a "big bang".

He said Mr Hayes was a lovely guy who was "one of a kind".

"He was not only a work colleague he was one of my good mates, a very friendly guy, a laugh, a lovely bloke," he said.

"When you see the pictures and I've got out with a couple of bruises and a little cut and Chris has passed, it doesn't seem right.

"You don't expect things like that to happen anyway, but at that particular moment bending down has saved my life."

Image caption Mr Hayes was a well-known businessman who owned a local building firm

Mr Martin was pulled from the van by passers-by.

Police said the tree collapsed on to the cab of the van at about 12:25 GMT in the severe weather and Mr Hayes, from Tonbridge, died at the scene.

Married father-of-three Mr Hayes owned a building firm that had operated in the Tonbridge area for more than 30 years.

A post-mortem examination into his death is due to take place on Thursday.

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