Coroner records unlawful killing verdict

RELATIVES of a father, mother and baby daughter killed in a horrific car crash on Heysham bypass said they would always remain in their hearts.

The family are still coming to terms with the tragic accident which claimed the lives of Simon Dewar Howden, 43, his wife Katerina Howden, 31, and their 23-month-old daughter Amalka, all of Dallas Road, Lancaster.

The couple's two other children, Bela and Olen, survived. The driver of the other car, Diane Helme, 48, from Heysham, was also killed in the head-on collision in February 23 of this year.

At the inquest into their deaths, Coroner Dr James Adeley issued a stark warning to motorists after it was revealed that Diane Helme was at twice the legal drink-drive limit when the crash occurred.

Dr Adeley said: "The callous disregard for the use of alcohol when driving destroys families, which is evident from this room."

Witnesses travelling towards Lancaster at about 10am on February 23 reported a black Toyota Celica driven by Miss Helme shooting past them on the Heysham by-pass road at around 80mph and overtaking several cars before starting to swerve and lose control.

The back end of her car slid towards the other carriageway until, at almost 90 degrees, Miss Helme's car hit that of the Howdens with enormous impact.

Other witnesses saw the Celica 'fishtailing' and nearly hitting another car before it smashed into the Howdens' Skoda.

Ian Smith, a Morrisons supermarket worker who was travelling in the opposite direction, said that the Celica pulled out from the oncoming traffic and swerved, causing him to swerve to the left.

The black car clipped the back of his car then started sliding across the road.

Less than a minute later there was the sound of an impact and he saw the Celica turn up and flip over but didn't realise it had hit the Skoda.

Dr Stephen Rattenbury, a car crash injury specialist, studied the seat belts and restraints in the Howdens' car in the aftermath of the crash.

He said the impact was such that the whole width of the front structure of the Skoda had been forced back 50cm (more than a foot-and-a-half) into the passenger compartment.

He said: "The parents did everything according to the book and did everything they possibly could to ensure everyone was properly restrained."

PC Stephen Price from the police accident investigation unit said the road was free from any defects or contaminants which could have contributed to the crash.

There were no tyre defects or vehicle defects on either car.

The Toyota driven by Miss Helme had overtaken a number of vehicles at 80mph, which in his opinion was unsafe driving and caused her to lose control.

He also said that the driver of the vehicle was intoxicated which must have been a contributory factor in the accident.

He said: "The standard of driving would be far below that required of a competent driver."

PC Ian Moneagle, a family liaison officer, went to Diane Helme's address after the accident. He found the patio doors at the rear had been left ajar, the television in the lounge was still on and he noticed food, drink and a mobile phone left on the table.

He also found three or four bottles of vodka in the kitchen and when he checked the cup on the table, thought the drink in it was a mixer with alcohol. No tests were done on the contents.

A text to a friend on Diane Helme's mobile phone said she was going to Ikea that morning.

Pathologist Dr Adam Padel told the inquest that she must have died almost instantaneously from head, neck and chest injuries.

Samples taken revealed she was twice over the legal limit for driving and there was evidence of an anti-depressant which could have reacted with the alcohol, further impairing driving ability.

The pathologist said that the alcohol level would have affected her driving skills and judgement on its own.

Simon Howden died instantly from chest injuries sustained in the high-impact crash.

No alcohol was found in his blood and there was no evidence of natural disease which could have caused him to crash the car.

Katerina Howden died on March 1 in hospital after suffering multiple pelvic injuries and internal bleeding. Amalka How-den died on February 27 from respiratory failure and a head injury.

Coroner Dr James Adeley said: "The Toyota was travelling at a minimum of 80mph prior to spinning out of control.

"Mr Howden braked prior to the impact but there was nothing he could have done.No other cars contributed to the accident.

"It is obvious that Miss Helme was driving in a dangerous manner, at speed, erratically and was twice over the legal limit of alcohol for driving.

"This was compounded by the use of anti-depressants and also driving at a minimum of 30mph over the speed limit.

"For the style, speed and use of alcohol whilst driving I am returning a verdict of unlawful killing of the Howdens.

"Miss Helme did not intend to cause the accident and therefore I will return a verdict of accidental death in relation to her.

"This was a senseless and unnecessary loss of life which resulted from the selfish actions of one driver.

"I hope nobody ever touches alcohol and gets in a vehicle again."

The Howden family said: "This was a tragic incident which led to the death of three people very special to us.

"Simon, Kacka (Katerina) and Amalka will always remain in our hearts and our aim now is to provide the best possible life for Bela and Olen."

They added: "We would like to thank everyone who has given us so much support since the accident and we would especially like to offer our thanks to the staff of the Royal Lancaster Infirmary and Pendlebury Children's Hosp-ital, Manchester, for their care and attention, staff and pupils from the Cathedral Primary School, the cathedral, and the family liaison officers from Lancashire Constabulary who provided so much support."

Chief Insp Matt Horn said: "Today's verdict brings to a close our investigation into the sad and needless deaths of all involved in the collision on the bypass at Heysham but I can't imagine the pain of those family members struggling to come to terms with what happened.

"The verdict should remind us all that drinking and driving destroys the lives of not only those directly involved but also those left behind."