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Sunday, 20 April 2014

Cumbrian driving instructor killed in crash may have had 'cardiac event'

A driving instructor who died in a head-on crash near Wigton had been suffering from heart problems he may have been unaware of.

Eric Coulson photo
Eric Coulson

Eric Coulson, 62, died in the crash on the A596 on March 29 last year after his white Suzuki Swift veered across the carriageway straight into the path of a lorry.

At the time of his death, Mr Coulson, of Wampool Place, was standing trial accused of sexually assaulting two female driving pupils – charges he denied. He had been due to give evidence at Carlisle Crown Court on the day of his death.

Mr Coulson’s wife, Elaine, said: “About two months prior to the accident Eric had come downstairs at about 4.30am. I had fallen asleep on the sofa and was awake.

“He looked dreadful and said he had the worst pain in his chest. I asked him why he didn’t call for help and he said he couldn’t move.

“I said it might be stress but it could be his heart. He eventually went back to bed but he was a grey colour.”

Mrs Coulson said she did not think her husband had ever seen a doctor about the pains in his chest. Medical evidence from Dr Fergus Young, a consultant pathologist at the Cumberland Infirmary, suggested that Mr Coulson may have had a heart attack in the 12 hours before the crash.

It was thought that Mr Coulson may then have had a second “cardiac event” before he crashed at about 9am. Witnesses told the inquest in Carlisle on Tuesday that Mr Coulson was slumped to the left (passenger side) with his arm outstretched when he hit the NHS lorry, driven by Stephen Bache of Liverpool.

Speaking at the inquest about the crown court trial, Mrs Coulson said: “He [Eric] had had a stressful time since the allegations were made.

“It was his first time in court and after the first day he was exhausted and tired but he was sort of more hopeful after hearing the evidence against him. He felt more positive that there would be a fair outcome.”

Mrs Coulson said she did not see a lot of her husband on the first night of the trial as she had to take her grandson to a guitar lesson in Carlisle and then she went to visit her mother.

She said: “When I got back he was weary and he went to bed. I didn’t see him again until the morning.

“When he came downstairs [in the morning] he looked relaxed and I asked him how he’d slept. He said he’d had the best night’s sleep for months.”

On the morning of the trial Mrs Coulson asked her husband if he had packed a bag in case he was found guilty and sent to prison.

“His barrister said it was unlikely but it was a possibility,” she said.

“I asked Eric if he’d packed a bag and he said no. He said he would do it later.

“He took the dog out for a quick walk and then he took our grandson to school and then got some dog food. I told him to get some bread and milk while he was out but when he came back in he’d forgotten.

“He said he’d go back out and get it but I said we’d get it later. I went in the shower and Eric went back out in the car to get the bread and milk.

“I don’t think Eric was ever suicidal. He was low, he was stressed but he never said anything about taking his own life. He felt a lot more positive about the court case after the first day.

“I don’t think this was a deliberate act as he would not have chosen that method. He spent most of his adult life teaching others about road safety and he would not have risked anybody else’s life.”

Mrs Coulson said Eric would not have needed to go along the Wigton bypass to get to the shops. She told the inquest he may have been “killing time” before they had to go to court and may have gone for a drive to “clear his head”.

North and west Cumbria coroner David Roberts said: “The exact reason as to why he should be on the bypass that morning is unclear.

“He may have suffered a second cardiac event prior to the crash. He had had a heart attack in the 12 hours before he died. He may not have known about that.

“He was going to be under stress that day and may have decided that a ride out in his car would help him settle.

“It is perfectly possible that he had a second heart attack within 12 hours of his death and it is possible he was feeling the effects of that.

“He may have been suffering from an irregular heart beat and as he travelled along he may have been feeling unwell.”

Dr Young concluded that Mr Coulson died of multiple injuries and that his death was likely to have been “instantaneous”.

Mr Roberts recorded a verdict of accidental death.

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