A family who lost a baby, two great grandparents and a young mum when a speeding lorry crushed their car have reacted with anger as their deaths were ruled accidental.
Robert Reed, 75, and his wife Margaret, 74, from Houghton-le-Spring, plus one-year-old Destiny and her mother Natalie, 18, from nearby Fencehouses, were killed in the collision with a lorry being driven by Owen Davis after he had a coughing fit at the wheel and lost consciousness.
In April the CPS ruled out bringing charges in relation to the matter, which happened near Sharpley Golf Course, Seaham. Yesterday a coroner in County Durham recorded a verdict of accidental death on all four family members.
After the inquest, Destiny’s grandmother Julie Duggan said: “The family can grieve but they cannot move on. Margaret was a great person and Bobby was too. Natalie was so loveable and Destiny was absolutely gorgeous. She was beautiful.”
Mrs Duggan’s son Sean, who was engaged to Natalie, said he was having counselling in the wake of the tragedy, but at times going on without his fiancé and daughter had led him to contemplate suicide.
“I’ve lost them both and yet I’m somehow supposed to get on with life – but they’re not here and it’s heartbreaking,” he said.
Other family members said they believed that despite evidence that Mr Davis had lost consciousness at the wheel because of an undiagnosed bout of whooping cough, which had caused his blood pressure to drop so low his heart could not pump oxygen to his brain, he still should have been prosecuted.
The inquest heard from NHS admin worker Anne-Marie Edwards, who was, along with an off-duty police officer who was playing the course at the time, among the first to reach Mr Davis after the smash, which ripped the roof off the family’s Renault Megane and saw his truck keep going for over 100 yards.
“He seemed dazed and a bit confused as to why he was on the golf course,” she said. “He then doubled over clutching his stomach and screaming out in pain.
“He didn’t seem to know about the collision on the road. He said I’m just pleased I haven’t hit anybody.”
Sunderland Royal Hospital’s blackout specialist Dr Nigel Stout and independent medical expert Dr Adam Fitzpatrick told the inquest that, weeks after the crash, it had been found that Mr Davis had recently suffered from whooping cough, as had his son, who had also coughed himself unconsciousness.
Confirming a diagnosis of “cough syncope”, Dr Stout said while it was the first time he had ever encountered whooping cough in an adult, let alone one who had blacked out because of it, it was a known side effect of the condition.
Now retired senior collision investigator Ian Haigh said everything he found was consistent with Mr Davis’ accounts of the crash, and even though Natalie was not wearing a seatbelt and Destiny’s car seat was not secured, even if they had been it would not have saved them.
Robert, Natalie and Destiny died at the scene of the crash, just before 12.20pm on April 25, 2012. Margaret died from her injuries at the James Cook University Hospital in Middlesbrough, without ever having regained consciousness.
Breaking down in tears as he recalled the seconds before the crash Mr Davis, from Hetton-le-Hole, near Sunderland, admitted he had been speeding in his 15-tonne truck, but said he was slowing down as the coughing - and panic - set in.
“I was heading home for dinner and felt fine at the time,” he said. “I had the radio on and I remember driving along, changing gear, looking in the mirror, listening to music and tapping my finger on the wheel.
“I noticed my speed was increasing - I was doing 46 - so I took my foot off the accelerator. And I remember thinking what was in the fridge for dinner.
“Then I started coughing, out and out, and trying to breathe in. I was panicking and looking at my inside mirror thinking ‘There’s no layby, I’m going to have to stop on the road.’
“The next thing I remember was peace and quiet. I could hear the lorry coming to a stop, the birds chirping and people shouting. I was dazed and didn’t know what had happened or what was going on.”
Recording a verdict of accidental death, Durham Coroner Andrew Tweddle said the case had been “unusal even within the realms of unusualness.”
“I’ve never deal with an incident like this,” he said. “It’s one of the most tragic situations - they were in exactly the wrong place at exactly the wrong time.
“If the car had been just a second or two earlier or later then the collision wouldn’t have occurred.”