A man who found the car involved in a fatal crash in Cardiff has today slammed police for not acting quickly enough – as he revealed he was best friends with one of the victims.
Lewis Pace, 26, and his father Matthew, 45, were searching for the missing group of five when they spotted tyre tracks across grass at a roundabout. They investigated and found the white Volkswagen Tiguan wedged behind trees.
Lewis was close friends with Rafel Jeanne, 24, who was killed with Darcy Ross, 21, and Eve Smith, 21. The other passengers, Shane Loughlin, 32, and Sophie Russon, 20, spent nearly two days critically injured alongside their dead friends and are in hospital.
Ms Russon’s mother Anna Certowicz, 41, has also criticised police searches alleging that ‘policemen on foot had searched the area but didn’t find anything’ prior to the discovery of the wreckage.
Today Lewis told Sky News: ‘As soon as they were reported missing they should have been out there looking for them, at the end of the day they were missing so there should have been a search there and then.
Lewis Pace, 26, and his father Matthew, 45, were searching for the missing group of friends in Cardiff when they spotted tyre tracks across grass at a roundabout
Lewis was best friends with Rafel Jeanne, one of three people who died in the crash
‘Obviously I didn’t think anything of it until I saw he was reported missing, I saw comments on Facebook that the police were not taking it seriously, obviously they definitely should have been.’
The father and son had only been looking for 15 minutes when they came across the car, according to The Sun.
Lewis said police were searching ‘literally next’ to where the vehicle was, so he is unsure why it was not found sooner.
‘When I saw them skid marks, obviously I was praying that it was nothing to do with it and it turns out it was, but the police were searching literally next to where we found it and anyway the helicopter was in the sky, so I don’t know how it wasn’t found quicker,’ he said.
‘I was just praying it wasn’t, of course, I was just praying it wasn’t them.’
Lewis said Mr Jeanne was a ‘very good kid’ adding: ‘We were very very close, we did most things together.
‘I’m devastated. I can’t cope, I can’t eat. It’s just devastating. He’s just hilarious, honestly the best way to describe him is just funny, like he’s always up for a laugh. I just miss him already.’
His father Matthew, 46, who lives two miles from the crash site in Pontprennau, Cardiff, said: ‘The minute they were reported missing, surely they should have been looking, searching.
‘Especially when witnesses saw five people in the car and there’s no contact off any of them, I thought they’d have been looking all day Saturday.’
Matthew said he and Lewis pulled up at the roundabout in St Mellons, Cardiff, after spotting the tyre marks leading to a wooded area.
He said a police woman arrived ‘about a minute later’ and Matthew pointed her towards a thicket of trees that has since been cut away with saws.
He said: ‘I pulled up, I was in the field, in the woods and then she pulled up behind me,’ he said.
‘She was asking why I was there, and I said: ‘There’s all tyre marks here’ and then her colleague came out, looked at the tyre marks and they got the helicopter to search in this bush and that’s when it was confirmed it was there.’
Mr Jeanne partying on Friday night in Newport with Darcy Ross, 21, who was also killed
Anna Certowicz, 42, (pictured with Ms Russon, right) believes her daughter and her two friends met Mr Jeanne and Mr Loughlin for the first time on the night of the tragedy
Eve Smith, 21, (pictured) whose sister Xana was killed by a drug and drink driver in 2015, died in the crash
Ms Smith was good friends with Darcy Ross and Sophie Russon (right)
Best friends Eve Smith, 21, Darcy Ross, 21, and Sophie Russon, 20, met Rafel Jeanne, 24, and Shane Loughlin, 32, at a social club in Newport
The father and son found the white Volkswagen Tiguan wedged behind trees
Ms Certowicz, 41, also says the police response wasn’t good enough and has alleged that police on foot had searched the wooded spot where the white VW Tiguan was hidden from view for 48 hours.
She said: ‘Policemen on foot had searched the area but didn’t find anything.
‘It was on a main road, next to a roundabout and opposite a garden centre. It doesn’t make sense.
‘People who didn’t even know the girls were out searching that night and it was a woman with a dog that found the car.
‘We told the police where to look and one of them told me later that night that drink-drivers use that stretch of road.’
The police watchdog is now inspecting both South Wales Police and Gwent Police amid questions about the speed of their response.
A missing person report was filed with Gwent Police at around 9pm on Saturday, the Daily Telegraph reported.
Yet an official appeal was not issued until just after 11pm on Sunday – more than a day later.
In the meantime, relatives were frantically appealing for information on social media and had even started their own searches for their relatives.
Ms Certowicz, said she was appalled by the apparent lack of concern among officers when she first reported her daughter missing.
In response, she was forced to mount her own search around Gwent and Cardiff after the force told her to ‘stop ringing’ the station for updates.
‘They didn’t seem to care,’ Ms Certowicz, 42, said. ‘I had to drive to Cardiff to knock on doors myself because they were doing sod all. They just didn’t seem to think it was worth investigating. It was so frustrating.
‘I think they assumed that Sophie was hungover somewhere, but she’s a sensible girl who works in a bank and hasn’t taken a day off for three years.
‘She’s not someone who’s out clubbing in Cardiff all the time. On Friday nights she’s more likely to be babysitting so other people can go out. She wouldn’t just vanish like this unless something was wrong.’
Ms Certowicz said she drove past the site where the car was found three times in her desperate hunt, passing within 20 yards of it. It could not be seen from the road due to camber and trees.
Meanwhile, volunteers who joined the search for the missing five said the fact a dog walker found the wreckage before police ‘speaks volumes.’
South Wales Police and Gwent Police have since referred the matter to the Independent Office For Police conduct.
Ms Certowicz was one of 200 people out searching for the five adults.
She revealed that her daughter was ‘conscious some of the time’ in the car after it ran off the A48 in Cardiff and had ‘called out but no one was close enough to hear her.’
She said: ‘I feel terrible for the families of Eve and Darcy, they were all best friends and had known each other since they were small’, adding the only people who knew what happened were her daughter and the other survivor Shane, who only met the girls for the first time on Friday night.
Ms Russon is critical but stable in hospital and undergoing surgery for a bleed on the brain and fractures to her neck, spine and face.
Ms Certowicz said: ‘It’s too awful to imagine what she went through trapped in the car in the dark until it got light and then dark again over two days.
‘Sophie was lying there for all that time, they could all have been found much quicker if the police had started searching straight away.’
Ms Certowicz said she made her first call to Gwent Police at noon on Saturday.
She made ten calls that day but police kept telling her not to worry, and that Ms Russon was ‘probably out partying’, she said.
It was not until more than a day later, just after 11pm on Sunday, that Gwent Police finally put out their own public appeal.
Shane Loughlin, 32, survived the crash
Her daughter was eventually found and cut out of the VW Tiguan where she spent two days knowing her friends were dead alongside her.
Ms Smith and Mr Jeanne died in the crash in the early hours of Saturday morning.
Ms Certowicz said the only people who knew what happened were her daughter and the other survivor, Mr Loughlin.
All five victims who had been out together in Cardiff and Newport were found shortly after midnight on Sunday.
Speaking at the scene, a friend of the three girls said the police could have ‘done more’.
Tamzin Samuels, 20, said: ‘They only posted the appeal an hour before the girls were found. We found them before the police found them – we rang the police.
‘The search party found the girls before the police. I think that speaks volumes really, they had all that equipment, and we had cars when we were looking.
‘They were really popular girls, the life of the party, and it was really out of character for them to do what they did, which is why we knew something was wrong.’
MailOnline has approached Gwent Police for clarity on the search effort.
Mr Jeanne was the son of former Cardiff City and QPR footballer Leon Jeanne (right), who was once dubbed Wales’ most promising footballer before being jailed in a drugs case
Eve (right with mother Emma, stepfather Tony and her brother) in the Sky TV show This is Our Family, which followed their lives after the death of her sister Xana in a car crash in 2015
Eve Smith’s sister Xana Doyle (left, and together right) was killed by a drunk and drugged up driver in 2015
Assistant Chief Constable Jason Davies, of South Wales Police, confirmed the police watchdog would now investigate what happened.
‘Our thoughts are with the families of all those affected by this tragic incident,’ he said.
‘Specialist officers are carrying out an investigation to piece together what has happened.
‘Family liaison officers are supporting the families involved at what must be a hugely difficult time for them.
‘To ensure independent oversight, South Wales Police has referred the matter to the Independent Office for Police Conduct, as is usual in these circumstances.’
Details have emerged about the victims as police continue to piece together the events leading up to the crash.
Mr Jeanne is the son of former Queens Park Rangers footballer Leon Jeanne, 42.
The trees meant the crash site was hidden to passing motorists
Meanwhile, Ms Smith tragically lost her sister Xana was killed in a car crash in January 2015.
Sakhawat Ali, then 23, who was high on cocaine and cannabis and twice the drink-drive limit, had given Xana a lift home from a party.
She was a passenger when the flipped over at 60mph in January 2015.
Eve and Xana’s stepfather is Tony Borg, a former boxer who trained Welsh Olympic medal winning boxers and world champion Lee Selby.
After Xana was killed, Eve paid an emotional tribute to her saying she had ‘tragically lost my beautiful big sister’.
The family appeared in a Sky documentary ‘This is Our Family’ calling for tougher sentences for dangerous drivers, in which they were followed by a camera crew for three years.
Police are today probing how the car lay undiscovered for 48 hours off one of South Wales’ busiest roads, with two people alive and three dead among them.
Firefighters were seen carrying stretchers and cutting equipment towards the car yesterday.
The car was removed on a flatbed truck at lunchtime after a private ambulance arrived to carry away the dead.
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