Wisbech driver had heroin in his system when he fell asleep at the wheel, inquest hears
PUBLISHED: 16:07 23 November 2018 | UPDATED: 16:07 23 November 2018
A driver who fell asleep at the wheel, causing a collision in which he and a friend died, had traces of heroin in his blood and did not have a licence, a court was told.
Ground worker James Cox was driving a Ford Transit van which collided head-on with a 53-seater coach on the A47 at North Runcton, near King’s Lynn, on the evening of January 17.
Mr Cox, 46, of Princes Street, Wisbech, suffered multiple injuries and later died in the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, an inquest heard today. Passenger Riki Boughen, 43, also of Princes Street, suffered a serious head injury and was pronounced dead at the scene.
Matthew Cambray was driving the coach, which was taking the RAF Marham football team back to the base from a match at RAF Cranwell in Lincolnshire. The players, seating at the rear of the coach, escaped uninjured.
In a statement read out in court, he said shortly after crossing the Hardwick flyover, he saw a set of headlights coming towards him in his lane before the impact.
“Immediately the windscreen came in, I was showered in glass and all the lights went out,” he said.
The coach continued a short distance before veering off the carriageway into a tree. Mr Cambray said he had no time to react or take avoiding action.
The white Transit van also left the road and came to rest in the hedgerow.
Firefighter Melvyn Sayer, who was driving towards King’s Lynn to start a night shift, said the van was behind him between Chalk Hill Stoves, near the A1122 roundabout and the scene of the crash.
He said it drifted across the central reservation and into the wrong lane around half a dozen times.
In his statement, he said: “The manner of driving of the van was as if there was some kind of distraction or medical issue with the driver.” He added two miles from King’s Lynn, he heard a loud bang and looked back to see the van had disappeared and headlights facing across the road. He said he pulled into a lay-by and dialled 999.
Peter Free, who was following the coach in his car said: “Immediately before the crash, I became aware of the lights of a vehicle coming towards me. Then they disappeared and there was a crash.”
Mr Free said the van veered off to the right of the road, while the coach veered into a ditch.
Adam Smith, a passenger in the van, said Mr Cox was driving back from a day’s work on a building site in Hethersett with fellow workmates Mr Boughen and Adam Bunton. Mr Boughen worked as a plant driver, while Mr Bunton was a supervisor.
He said he and Mr Bunton were sitting in the front, while Mr Boughen was sitting behind Mr Cox.
“Before we left, Jim seemed a bit tired,” he said. “I asked him are you all right to drive and he said yes.”
Mr Smith said Mr Bunton and Mr Boughen fell asleep on the journey. He said he continued talking to Mr Cox but eventually also fell asleep.
He said he was woken by “a massive bang” and the vehicle coming to an abrupt stop.
Mr Smith said Mr Boughen was lying on the floor of the vehicle. He added: “I could see he was badly hurt.”
He said Mr Cox appeared to be unconscious, although his eyes were open. Police officers at the scene told him Mr Boughen had died.
Mr Smith told the court he and his workmates regularly worked 60-hour weeks on the site.
A report by consultant pathologist James Sington said Mr Cox died of multiple injuries. He said toxicology tests revealed the presence of antibiotics, codeine, Co-codamol, morphine, heroin and diamorphine in his bloodstream.
He said the extent of Mr Cox’s heroin use was not known but it was a drug which had the potential to impair a person’s ability to drive a mechanical vehicle. Mr Boughen died from a serious head injury.
In his statement, crash investigator PC Lee Smart said data from the coach’s tachograph showed the collision happened at 5.17pm.
He said toxicology tests had shown Mr Cox was a heroin user. But he added it was not possible to correlate this with impaired driving and the amount detected was below the drug driving limit.
PC Smart said Mr Cox fell asleep at the wheel. He added: “He succumbed to tiredness and closed his eyes allowing his vehicle to drift off its intended course.”
Mr Cox did not have a driving licence at the time of the crash, the court was told. He had completed a period of disqualification but had not re-applied for his licence.
Summing up senior coroner Jacqueline Lake said toxicology tests showed Mr Cox had used heroin prior to his death. She said the effects of this on his ability to drive were unknown but the effects of taking the drug included drowsiness.
She concluded both men died as a result of a road traffic collision, adding: “I am satisfied Mr Cambray was in a position where he could do nothing to avoid the collision.”