A West Midlands father and his young daughter died after their holiday safari jeep crashed when the driver was believed to have been temporarily blinded in a water fight, it has been claimed.
Jonathan Pearce, aged 38, and his eight-year-old daughter Charley, from Smethwick, Sandwell, were in a convoy of four open-top Land Rovers in Turkey, where passengers were exchanging fire with giant water pistols.
Witnesses said the Pearces’ driver, who was from the Sarigerme Tour company in southern Turkey, was temporarily blinded by a passenger in another jeep or by a German motorcyclist at the roadside who joined in the water fight.
The water is believed to have hit the driver in the face, causing him to plough into a broken-down tractor, which was filled with bricks and parked at the roadside.
Charley was flung from the jeep and died at the scene. Mr Pearce, a florist, died in an ambulance on the way to hospital.
Mr Pearce’s nephew Joseph, also aged eight, suffered serious head injuries in Monday’s crash and is in hospital in a “critical but stable condition” according to the Foreign Office.
Local police arrested the driver of the Jeep and confirmed they were looking for the motorcyclist, who apparently left the scene following the crash.
It is believed Mr Pearce, his wife Joanne, and his daughter were among a total of eight family members on holiday at the four-star First Choice Holiday Village, in Sarigerme, on the Turkish Mediterranean coast.
Friends of the family yesterday spoke of their shock and paid tribute to the family.
Chris Whitby, of Primrose Hill, said: “They were a really lovely family, such a hard working family.
“He ran a nearby florist, which was very much a family business and used to work for Sandwell Council’s garden department.”
Keith Bradbury, aged 50, who runs the barber shop next door to the florist shop, said: “I’m just completely choked. It’s so sad. They are a lovely family.”
The 4x4 tours, where passengers exchange water pistol fire, is one of the most popular excursions in the Turkish resort.
An eye-witness travelling in the same jeep convoy said: “It was dreadful, really dreadful. One minute they were all laughing and squirting each other with water pistols.
“The driver, a young lad, was squirted with water which temporarily blinded him. He saw the tractor too late and swerved to avoid it – but as he swerved the back of the jeep took the full impact of the crash.
“No one was wearing seat belts, in fact they were standing up in the jeep having a whale of a time.
“When they hit the tractor I saw them being flung out into the road – the screams of laughter changed to screaming in pain.”
A spokesman for Sarigerme Tours, which runs the safari Jeep tour, said: “We advise our customers just to water fight between each other and not to squirt water at passers-by who might not appreciate it.”
He said it was the first accident the firm had suffered in five years running the jeep safari.
A spokesman for First Choice, said “We regret to confirm that two of our customers, an eight-year-old girl and her father, were tragically killed and a third customer is in critical condition following a jeep accident in Turkey.
“In sending condolences, we can confirm that the customers were on a jeep safari organised by a third party not affiliated with First Choice.”