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Coughing fit caused trucker to black out killing family of four
FOUR family members killed when their car was crushed by a lorry after its driver blacked out during a coughing fit were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, a coroner has ruled.
Robert Reed, 75, Natalie Jade Simpson, 18, and 14-month-old Destiny Paris Reed died instantly when the 15 tonne wagon ran over their car on Wednesday, April 25, last year.
Mr Reed’s wife Margaret, 74, died in hospital three weeks later on May 18 after suffering multiple injuries in the crash on the B1404 Seaton Lane between Houghton-le-Spring and Seaham.
At their inquests in Crook, County Durham, today (Tuesday, September 3), the wagon driver Owen Davis told coroner Andrew Tweddle that he coughed heavily for six seconds before fainting at the wheel.
The Volvo lorry ran over the Reeds' Renault Megane, which was travelling towards the truck, went through a hedge and over an embankment before coming to rest 100m away on Sharpley Golf Course at around 12.15pm.
Mr Davis broke down in tears as he gave his account.
He said: “I was heading home for dinner, I had the radio on listening to A-ha Take On Me, I remember thinking what was in the fridge for dinner, then I started coughing.”
Mr Davis, who said he had felt fine prior to the coughing, blacked out before he could stop the lorry.
He said: “I was coughing out and out, tried to get breath in but I could not and started to panic.
“It was a horrible sensation, like my lungs were deflating.”
Ronald Davison, who was driving behind the lorry, said: “When he came to the bend the lorry did not slow down and did not try to take the bend, he just went straight forward over the car.”
Commuter Anne-Marie Edwards was one of the first people to get to the lorry after the crash along with four off-duty police officers playing a round of golf.
She said a dazed Mr Davis told her he had been coughing and blacked out before adding: “I’m just pleased I have not hit anybody.”
Paramedic Angela Laybourn, who treated Mr Davis at the scene, confirmed that the lorry driver did not know he had hit another car until a police officer told him.
She said: “His eyes shot open and it was as if he was in a shock.”
Dr Nigel Stout, a consultant physician at Sunderland Royal hospital, said blood tests showed Mr Davis had a whooping cough infection at the time, and the severe coughing fit had caused a loss of blood pressure resulting in the black out.
Mr Tweddle’s verdict was that the four deaths had been accidental.
He said: “It seems very clear to me that if that car had been a second or two along the road earlier or later the collision would not have occurred.
“It really was one of the most tragic situations of being in the wrong place at exactly the wrong time.”
Speaking after the inquest, Steven Reed, the son of Mr and Mrs Reed of St Michael’s in Houghton-le-Spring and grandfather of Destiny, said: “We are not coping well, this will never heal, I will never get over it.”
Julie Duggan, mother of Ms Simpson’s partner and Destiny’s father Sean Reed, said: “They were a lovely family. Margaret was a great person and Bobby was too.
"Natalie was so loveable and Destiny was absolutely gorgeous. She was beautiful.
"I don't know how he can live with himself."
Ms Simpson, of Britannia Terrace, Houghton-le-Spring, won an award from police after helping to rescue a man from the River Tyne at Low Prudhoe in 2008.
The Crown Prosecution Service has previously said Mr Davis will not face any criminal charges.