Driver's coughing fit led to tragic death of popular teacher

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Tracey Askham Tracey Askham

A teacher was crushed by her own car when it was shunted into her after a 4x4 driver had a violent coughing fit and lost control in a Bradford supermarketcar park.

Mother-of-five Tracey Askham, 47, of Myers Close, Idle, had been loading shopping into the back of her car at Morrisons in Five Lane Ends, Bradford, when it was hit by Frank Sellers’ Suzuki Grand Vitara, an inquest heard yesterday.

Mr Sellers, a shopkeeper, of Eccleshill, told the hearing he must have blacked out because of his coughing as he could not remember anything until he woke wondering ‘where am I?’.

Shopper Steven Cunningham, who was the only witness to the collision, sobbed as he described hearing a bang and rushing to Mrs Askham’s aid.

He said he had found Mrs Askham under her car with only her head protruding calling out for help.

Mr Cunningham said he had tried in vain to lift the car off her and had then run about like “a headless chicken” trying to get help until a store worker came out and rang 999.

He said: “The driver of the other car (the Suzuki) eventually appeared, I said what have you done?

“I don’t think he was even aware. He was shocked. He put his hands up and said ‘what have I done? What have I done’.”

Mrs Askham’s family, who attended the hearing, wept as Mr Cunningham then described how he had knelt down next to her as she gasped for breath and brushed her hair away from her face.

Emergency services then arrived to free Mrs Askham and she was taken to Leeds General Infirmary.

A CT head scan showed she had also suffered a brain injury and despite several attempts to see if she could regain consciousness, she died seven days later after developing bronchial pneumonia.

Accident investigator James Viney said Mrs Askham’s car had been parked with its handbrake on and the gearbox in neutral when it was struck by the Suzuki which was in a high-range gear and travelling about 9mph at impact, pushing the Mini back the whole length of its bay, dragging her under it.

Tests had shown both the cars were in roadworthy condition but there was no evidence Mr Sellers had braked or attempted to avoid the collision as his car had mounted and crossed a kerb before colliding with the front of Mrs Askham’s car.

Mr Sellers had been breathalysed but he was only a third of the legal limit after having a pint of lager earlier that day.

In police interviews, Mr Sellers, who has breathing difficulties, takes anti-depressants and is a diabetic, said he had suffered the cough for about three weeks but had not blacked out from coughing fits before.

Giving evidence he said: “I was driving along Norman Lane turned right into the car park and started coughing violently. I was going to McDonalds but the next thing I knew I had gone straight on over the pavement edge.

“I didn’t know I had. I only knew my whereabouts when the car had stopped. A man was running over. I was just sort of a bit dazed. I got out and saw my car was damagaed then saw the black car obviously out of its bay and I presumed I’d hit it. I walked round the back and saw the lady under it.”

Recording a narrative verdict, Assistant Bradford Coroner Roger Whittaker – who had visited the site of the tragedy – concluded that Mr Sellers had suffered a coughing fit and had blacked out.

“Tracey Askham died on Ward 7 at the LGI on August 28, 2013 from bronchial pneumonia after crushing chest injuries sustained on August 21 in the car park at Morrisons at Five Lane Ends as she was putting her shopping into her Mini which was then struck by a Suzuki,” he said. “The driver of that car had lost control of it as a result of an involuntary coughing fit.”

A statement by Mrs Askham’s family, read out in court said how she had been born in Bradford and grown up to have five children.

She got a law degree, then did a teaching qualification, taking a job at Immanuel College in Thackley and developed a love for travelling visiting some of the most amazing places in the world which she shared with her own children and students who she loved.

“Our mum lived a full life in such a short time, there was never any obstacle she did not overcome,” said the family’s statement.

“The older she became, the more youth she found but she was taken too soon from us that day. Her absence is felt not just by family and friends but the whole community.”

Mrs Askham was posthumously awarded Secondary Teacher of the Year at the inaugaral Bradford and District Schools Awards last month after being nominated by colleagues and pupils. The awards were organised by the Telegraph & Argus supported by Bradford Council and the University of Bradford.

Mr Sellers will not face any prosecution over Mrs Askham’s death.

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