Jess Danby – a shining star taken from us before her prime
Jessica Danby (19), of Donington, had everything to live for and life had plenty to give her ahead of, and beyond, October 1, 2015.
The aspiring actress and popular barista (someone who makes and serves coffee to the public) at Caffe Nero in Boston had set her sights on emulating her big screen favourites, Angelina Jolie and Helena Bonham-Carter.
Fatefully, the former Middlecott School (now Thomas Middlecott Academy, Kirton) and New College Stamford student happened to be on the same stretch of road as impatient driver Philip Paddington-Wheatcroft.
Dawn Ducker, Jessica’s mother, said: “She was such a popular girl and had overcome so much.
“After Jessica died I was contacted by people I didn’t even know because she had made such an impact on so many people.
“When she got the job at Caffe Nero, Jess was so excited because she had applied and found it herself.
“She was very good at making different types of coffee, but she also came of of herself and she really blossomed.
“Jessica made so many friends, talking to complete and utter strangers who loved her for who she was.
“One customer came in and, within minutes of talking to him, Jessica found out that he was a pilot and he took her up in an aeroplane.
“Another time she walked into a stonemason’s and just had a go, she was just that kind of girl and nothing bad ever happened to Jess on any of these trips.
When he was taken out of court, Paddington-Wheatcroft looked at me and my father said that he mouthed something like ‘sorry’
“Jess just lived life to the full and I only wish I could have seen what she was going to become.”
A day before she died, Jessica was travelling to Caffe Nero where she worked in dense fog on the A52 in Frampton Fen.
Driving in the opposite direction was Paddington-Wheatcroft at the wheel of a Audi Q7 which crashed head-on into a moped ridden by Jessica after he overtook a HGV tractor unit.
Dawn said: “I was on my break at work when I was called by my eldest daughter Lucy (22) who told me that Jessica had been in an accident.
“At first, I thought she had fallen off her moped which she had done before and was fine.
“Then a policewoman told me that it was serious so all the family met up at Pilgrim Hospital, Boston, where it took a long time before I was allowed to go and see Jessica.
“She was transferred to Queen’s Medical Centre, Nottingham, and I was convinced that Jessica was going to be fine and nothing worse was going to happen to us.
“But when the policewoman explanined that Jessica had been hit head-on by a car which had overtaken a lorry on the A15, I just shut down and couldn’t really function.”
The horrific nature of Jessica’s death was revealed at Lincoln Crown Court on Friday when Paddington-Wheatcroft, of Main Road, Sibsey, near Boston, was jailed for two year after he admitted causing death by dangerous driving.
Gordon Aspden, prosecuting, said that Jessica had her moped headlights on and was wearing high-visibility clothing while riding in dense fog along the A52 from her Donington home to work in Boston.
Mr Aspden added: “Jessica Danby was 19 years old at the time of her tragic and avoidable death.
“It is plain there was absolutely no fault at all that can be attached to the way that Jess was dressed and to the way she controlled her moped that morning.”
Paddington-Wheatcroft was driving an Audi Q7, the second of two cars behind an articulated lorry tractor unit travelling in the opposite direction to Jessica, towards Donington.
The first car, driven by Graeme Riches, of Leverett Road, Boston, overtook the lorry before he “veered back”, according to Mr Aspden, having seen Jessica approaching.
Mr Aspden said “Paddington-Wheatcroft then overtook (Riches and the lorry).
“Why he took that decision one will never know, but there was no reason to overtake apart from impatience.
“Jess was in a position where she could do nothing to avoid a head-on collision and that is what happened.
“She was fatally injured and her moped was damaged beyond recognition.”
Jessica eventually passed away at Queen’s Medical Centre, Nottingham, at about 10.30am on Friday, October 2, 2015, leaving a lasting void for Dawn, father Jim Danby, sisters Lucy, Sian (15) and step-sister Hannah (27).
Dawn said: “For Jessica’s thanksgiving service (at Boston Crematorium on October 21, 2015), I asked people to wear bright clothing because I didn’t want it to be morbid.
“I wanted the service to be a celebration of everything Jessica had achieved and there were pictures of film cameras and film reels on her coffin.
“The theme of the service was blue and it was nice that a lot of people came to remember someone who was so full of ambition and determintation to do stuff.
“Jessica would have made it in becoming an actress because she was so determined and had so much confidence, bringing the best out of other people and always thinking about other people.”
The sharp contrast between Jessica Danby’s selflessness and the “impatience” of Paddington-Wheatcroft who, along with his jail term was also handed a four-year driving ban, was summed up by Judge Simon Hirst.
Passing sentence, the judge said: “Visibility was very poor and what you did was show a gross disregard for the safety of a vulnerable category of road user.”
Dawn said: “We went through all the grief of Jessica’s death and thanksgiving service, but the next thing was when is Paddington-Wheatcroft going to be charged.
“The family were all focused on the hearing at Lincoln Crown Court on June 8 last year and I thought ‘this should be it, this is when we’re going to get our justice for Jessica’.
“Never in my wildest dreams did I think Paddington-Wheatcroft would plead ‘Not Guilty’, instead pleading guilty to careless driving which the Crown Prosecution Service wouldn’t have any of.
“So it went to trial and the judge said that the earliest he could hear the case was February 8.
“That was the longest and hardest part, having to wait that long, until Paddington-Wheatcroft changed his plea to “Guilty” shortly before Christmas.
“Nobody will ever know, apart from him, why he did it, but it kind of ruined our Christmas again - after losing Jessica before Christmas 2015.”
The other driver, Riches, faced a charge of dangerous driving as a result of his overtaking manoeuvre moments before the fatal crash.
“But the matter was effectively dropped by the prosecution after he was diagnosed with a brain tumour and ruled to be too ill to attend court, with the charge left to lie on the file.
Dawn said: “I knew that I had to go through Paddington-Wheatcroft’s sentencing, but ever since Christmas last year, I’ve just not slept.
“Paddington-Wheatcroft made things worse by making us wait but when he was taken out of court, Paddington-Wheatcroft looked at me and my father said that he mouthed something like ‘sorry’.
“He’s not a criminal type of person but I hope that prison is hard for him because I couldn’t make someone go through the grief that I’ve gone through.
“I don’t know whether Paddington-Wheatcroft saw Roches overtake the lorry and thought ‘he got round it so I can’.
“But at the end of the day, Riches didn’t force him to make a decision to overtake.
“Paddington-Wheatcroft made that decision all by himself and I hate him for what he has taken away from me and from Jessica.
“All that opportunity, initiative, her infectious laugh and sense of adventure.
“But I’m not going to lower myself to his standards by killing someone and I don’t want to see him again.”
In mitigation, Alexander Stein told the court that Paddington-Wheatcroft felt remorse “for the terrible mistake he made” and that Jessica was totally blameless for “his act of dangerous driving”.
Dawn said: “We have to find a way of moving on but it’s very difficult when Jessica is always on my mind.
“Wherever I go, she’s there and I know that she loves me.”
The “tragic and avoidable” passing of Jessica Danby is still felt by her family and closest friends, 15 months on from her funeral.
Arabella Brooks (21), of Lincoln, said: “Jess was the most beautiful person I’d ever met, both inside and out. “From the first day I met her I knew she was special and the day Jess was taken away from us was the day a part of me left too.
“That piece of me will never be whole again and I just wish for one more day with Jess so I can smile and feel whole again because that’s how I felt around her.
“Knowing Jess is up there looking down on me just makes me want to make her proud every single day.
“Jess’s family is my family and we’re all looking after each other because Jess is such an inspiration and such a star who made so many people smile and laugh.
“She just brightened up every day with your smile and I loved her so much, always have and always will.”
Georgia Quant (20), of Wyberton, said: “I still miss my little Jess and I think about her all the time.
“I love you her so much and will do forever and always.”
Immediately after Jessica’s death was made public, it was impossible not to be moved by the heartfelt and glowing tributes from Middlecott School, New College Stamford and Caffe Nero.
A spokesman for New College Stamford said: “Jess was a vibrant and valued member of the college’s performing arts course.
“She was a committed and diligent student who was very popular with her peers and tutors alike.”
Sue Illingworth, vice principal of Thomas Middlecott Academy, Kirton, said: “There are times when, working in a school, you are blessed in meeting a truly remarkable student.
“Jess Danby was one of these students - effervescent, happy and enthusiastic are some of the positives that describe Jess.
“Her first love was drama and it is in this area that she made her mark with fabulous performances in Murder at the Manor and Little Shop of Horrors, allowing her to develop the ability to play the most amazing characters.
“However, Jess never shied away from the more intense dramatic roles and it is these two aspects of being funny - yet deep - that um up Jess’s approach to life.
“She was a genuinely caring and kind person, nothing was too much trouble for her and although she had only a short life, the impact she made and the memories she has left behind are huge.”
A Caffe Nero spokesman added: “Jess was the nicest person you could hope to meet.
“She was bubbly, bright, and loved by her team and customers at Caffe Nero Boston.”
During her life, Jessica was committed to helping homeless people in Boston through the town’s Centrepoint Outreach charity and had also registered as an organ donor while learning to ride a moped.
Dawn said: “I think about Jessica every single day, knowing she has donated her organs to help four other people get their lives back.
“I got a letter from the organ donation people who told me that three out of the four people had survived because of Jessica.
“But that shows what I always knew, Jessica was kind, loving and would do anything for you.”