A 93-year-old councillor who died after a car crash probably had a medical incident at the wheel, an inquest has heard.
Former mayor of Market Deeping Reg Howard died in hospital on April 14 this year, a day after crashing into a pick-up truck on the A15 just outside Bourne.
At an inquest into his death at Stamford Town Hall on Wednesday, witnesses to the crash described how Mr Howard did not seem to be paying attention to other road users as he drove across the Elsea Park roundabout at about midday on April 13. He then mounted the grass verge while turning onto the A15 southbound, swerving in and out of the northbound lane once before doing so again and crashing his white Kia Picanto into a Mitsubishi L200.
Mr Howard was flown to the Queen’s Medical Centre in Nottingham by air ambulance but he died of multiple internal injuries the following day.
Maintenance man Keith Russell was driving the Mitsubishi and was approaching the roundabout from the direction of Market Deeping when the people carrier in front of him swerved to the left. He told the inquest he braked, wondering what was happening.
“I saw a small white car coming toward me in the middle of the road. It was only a couple of car lengths away.”
Mr Russell, who was driving with his daughter Barbara in the passenger seat, tried to turn out of the car’s way but could not.
“There was nothing else I could do. I did try to avoid him but I couldn’t.”
Mr Russell said he had almost stopped when the car, which was being driven by Mr Howard, hit him.
“He was looking downwards,” said Mr Russell. “He was slumped forward towards the steering wheel.”
A statement from Barbara Russell describing the same scene was read out by the coroner, professor Robert Forrest.
Miss Russell said she went to check on Mr Howard while her father directed traffic. The statement said Mr Howard was slumped forward and shaking, but he was conscious and still breathing.
“I sat next to him, talking to him for ages, trying to reassure him and keep him alert,” she said.
Another witness, lorry driver Stephen King, said he saw what he now knew to be Mr Howard’s car shortly before the accident. He was approaching the roundabout a few cars in front of Mr Russell when he saw the Kia turning onto the A15.
“As it came round it veered off to the left and mounted the grass verge,” he said. “I thought for a moment he was pulling over to stop. But he carried on along a small length and seems to veer back into the road again.”
Mr King said the car then veered towards the northbound lane.
“I realised he was still veering in so I veered off to the left to put my vehicle into the grass to allow him room to swing into the land on the road again.”
Mr King turned his attention back to the traffic in front of him, but when he looking in his rear view mirror he saw the car once again veer into the northbound lane, this time hitting the Mitsubishi.
“I wondered whether he was having a diabetic attack,” said Mr King. “He was sat in the car as though he was transfixed.”
Company director Mark Smith saw Mr Howard’s car as he was waiting to turn onto the Elsea Park roundabout from the McDonald’s exit. The car “didn’t seem to slow down”.
“Had I not have stopped, he would have hit me,” said Mr Smith.
PC Andrew Donaldson, who was the first to reach the scene, described how he and Miss Russell moved Mr Howard out of his car and laid him on the verge. He was having difficulty breathing.
A retained firefighter and a student nurse stopped to help and began administering CPR. A road and air ambulance then arrived and Mr Howard was flown to the Queen’s Medical Centre.
Two more officers, PCs Fraser Green and Tim McAvoy, also attended and helped with CPR until paramedics arrived.
The inquest heard evidence from vehicle inspection officer Alan Mills, who looked over the Kia and the Mitsubishi and concluded there were no defects that could have contributed to the collision. A report from forensic collision investigator PC Michelle Ford drew the same conclusion, adding: “If he had been alert and aware he ought to have been able to stop his vehicle.
“It’s possible he may have suffered a medical episode.”
PC Godfrey Barlow, also a forensic collision investigator, added: “It’s highly likely that Mr Howard suffered from a medical event immediately prior to the collision.”
The coroner read a statement from the pathologist, who carried out a post-mortem examination that said Mr Howard had died from multiple injuries. It was noted that he had some cardiac problems and was taking tablets for diabetes.
Recording a verdict that Mr Howard died as a result of an accident, Professor Forrest said it was a “sad end to a life which has been led to the full”.
“It’s very clear that immediately leading up to the collision Mr Howard was not in control of his vehicle,” said the coroner.
“Taking all of the evidence we have heard into account I believe that he became incapacitated for medical reasons, leading up to the collision. I believe it is more rather than less likely that this was as a result of cardiac problems rather than neurological problems or problems related to diabetes.”
Professor Forrest raised the issue of road traffic officers not being trained in advanced first aid, but said he would wait until the result of an upcoming inquest with similar circumstances to comment.
Mr Howard’s son Ian also gave evidence at the inquest and spoke fondly of his father, who he said was an outgoing person who was enjoying the chairmanship of South Kesteven District Council, which he held at his death.