Toddler drowned after car rolled into West Wales river
A heartbroken West Wales mum told how she left her "laughing and singing" daughter alone in her car for just two minutes - when it rolled into a river with the toddler trapped inside, an inquest heard today.
Kim Rowlands, 29, rang 999 to report her silver Mini stolen with little two-year-old Kiara Moore inside.
But the inquest heard the handbrake was knocked off as Kiara was in the front passenger seat of her mum's car parked on a slipway next to her father's riverside office.
And in the two minutes and one second Kim popped back into his office, the car silently rolled into the river with Kiara trapped inside.
Kim told police: “I could hear Kiara in the car as I left. She was joking, singing and laughing.”
She realised through an open office door that her Mini had suddenly gone from where she left it outside her partner's riverside outdoor pursuits base at Cardigan.
She said: “I went down to the river and couldn’t see anything. My next thought was that the car had been taken. I asked people if they’d seen anything.
"I rang 999 and told them my car had been taken with my daughter inside. Then I was running about everywhere and asking drivers if anyone had seen my car.
“I looked everywhere. I phoned my mum as I was panicking."
But the Mini was two hours later spotted in the fast-flowing waters of the River Teifi - and Kiara was found drowned inside.
Kim said: “Kiara usually sits in the front passenger seat.
“She is usually plays with her toys but she likes to play with the radio controls too.”
Kim had parked near her partner's outdoor pursuits business Adventure Beyond in Cardigan early in the morning after taking Kiara into his work.
She said: "I work with the company and normally go there to work in the office. Since Kiara was a baby she has been coming with me to the office.
“She asked if she could come with me. I checked the handbrake which I always do. I left it in reverse."
But she took Kiara back to the car after 3pm. She said: "I then put her in the car seat but didn’t fasten her seat.
“I closed her door and walked round to driver door which I opened and as I did I realised my bank card had snapped. I took the card out and knew I didn’t have any food at home.
"I told Kiara I would be two seconds."
Kiara’s father Jet, of Llandysul, told how they had had the Mini car for “about three years” and it had been regularly serviced with no problems other than normal wear and tear.
“It was often parked on a steep hill and we didn't have issues with it,” he says.
“Kiara was in the vehicle with us often and I’ve never known her to play with the handbrake. She wasn’t interested.”
The inquest heard police were called in to find the "stolen car" - but after a two-hour search the car was tragically found submerged in the river just yards from where it was reported stolen.
Brave policewoman PCSO Caryl Griffiths told how she dived into the freezing river and smashed her way into the car.
She said: "I immediately felt Kiara's body. She floated out of the car into my arms.
"All I remember was looking at her body and her face was purple."
"I knew it was here because the coat she was wearing matched the description."
CCTV showed Kim nipping inside inside for just two minutes and two seconds before the car slipped into the water in March this year.
The inquest heard the handbrake on the Mini was not applied after police pulled it from the river.
Forensic investigator Aled Thomas told the hearing it would have needed to be set to just two clicks to stop it from rolling down the hill.
He said: "The handbrake was found in the unset position and not applied."
Other tests showed the handbrake was not in force - but there was no proof how it was knocked off.
Professor Stephen Leadbeatter gave the cause of death as immersion.
Ceredigion coroner Peter Brunton said: “As the car was recovered I find that the handbrake was down in third gear.
“Miss Rowlands said she left it in reverse. When the car was recovered that was not the case.
“The vehicle has been tested and was in good condition with no handbrake defects.
“There is going to be no satisfactory outcome.”
He said on the "balance of probabilities" the handbrake had not been set before it rolled into the river.
He said: "A perfectly lawful set of circumstances has taken place which has led to death. Kiara’s family have my deepest sympathies."
He recorded a verdict of misadventure.