A homeless man who died under the wheels of a Tesco lorry on Western Road in the early hours of the morning had been playing a game of catch the hat while drunk and high on Spice, an inquest heard today.
Georgi Yaschuk, known to friends as George, was in high spirits before he fell into the road in front of the lorry near the junction of Temple Street at 2.39am on Sunday, April 10.
Today, Brighton Coroner’s Court heard that the man he had been scuffling with had immediately fallen asleep and had no recollection of the night’s events.
A murder investigation was launched in the hours following George’s death as officers investigated whether foul play was involved and three men were arrested.
But days later, on April 23, police announced the murder investigation was dropped.
This morning, the court sitting at Woodvale heard that the lorry driver told police that George was swung under the wheels by a man he was fighting with as the trailer passed.
However, CCTV footage from the lorry’s cab and Jo Jo’s ice cream parlour suggests that the fall is already in place as the lorry passes – although it is impossible to tell how the fall happened.
A few minutes earlier, George Yaschuk and another man, believed to be a rough sleeper called Chris Jones, were caught on camera apparently playing a game of catch the hat, with one throwing around a hat while the other tries to stop it.
A grey trilby hat was found near to George’s body at the scene.
Investigating officer Gemma Potter from Sussex Police’s major crime unit told the court that investigations had established that Mr Jones was the figure tussling with George when they fell.
Two more homeless people who had been with them, Michal Zahradnik and Glen Walker, said there had been no fighting and CCTV shows people walking past the group had made no moves to avoid any fighting.
IO Potter said: “He said they were playing a game with a hat and and there was no ill feeling.
“He wasn’t aware that Chris Jones was aware of what had happened because he sat back down in the doorway and fell asleep.”
Mr Maurice Glenholmes, who drove the HGV, said he had seen two men fighting as he drove along Western Road.
He said: “The men were coming from the back of the pavement, rushing out fighting each other.
“They were pushing and pulling each other.
“As I passed I continued to watch them in the rear mirror and saw them pushing on the pavement and then I saw what I thought was the taller one pull George around, swing him around and he was thrown head first under the trailer and the wheels went over him.
“It was a very violent and determined swing under the wheels.”
Forensic collision investigator PC Chris Welsh said the evidence showed Mr Glenholmes had done everything he could to avoid the collision, and the lorry speed recording device showed he had been travelling at 15mph at the time of the incident.
Michal Zahradnik told police that he had met George, who had a place in a hostel in nearby Cambridge Street but preferred to spend time on the streets, earlier that night and he had been in high spirits.
In a statement read out in court, he said: “He was screaming and raising his arms around, wanting to share his positivity.”
A post mortem found that George had been about three and a half times over the legal drink drive limit and also had significant levels of cannabinoids in his bloodstream, which coroner’s officer Jodie Green said were probably from taking Spice, the then-legal high popular with the homeless community.
George had also been in the process of being diagnosed with the impulsive type of emotionally unstable personality disorder and ADHD. Adopted in Russia as a baby, he was also thought to suffer from foetal alcohol syndrome.
After the incident, Mr Glenholmes was very shaken and shocked, and two passers by called Barry and Lee sat with him on the benches outside the Temple Bar until the police arrived.
While the scene was cleared, Mr Jones was found asleep in the doorway and as officers thought he had slept through the incident, he was told to leave the area.
It was only when police spoke to the other two men that they then tracked down Mr Jones again – but all he knew was what he had been told by other rough sleepers, that he had been in a scuffle and George had ended up under the lorry.
The ensuing police investigation looked at two hypotheses – that the men were horsing around when they fell or that George was punched or thrown into the road.
DS Steve French told the court: “We kept an open mind but there is nothing that I have seen there was a definite assault which led to George Yaschuk going under the lorry and a decision was made by senior investigating officers that there was no evidence of a criminal act.”
Coroner Veronica Hamilton-Deeley said: “When something like this happens it is like throwing a stone into a pond – it affects so many people.”
She recorded a narrative verdict, saying George died of multiple injuries as a result of a road traffic collision, with alcohol and cannabinoids as contributing factors.
She added: “Members of the major crime unit are in touch with the street homeless community so perhaps you would pass on my condolences to that community.”
George’s parents were at the court before the hearing, but decided not to stay as discussion of the accident could have been harrowing for them.
Before they left, George’s mother embraced Mr Glenholmes and told him he had nothing to regret.