Popular shop worker died after vehicle skidded on ice, inquest hears

Harrogate Justice Centre.

A popular and much-loved supermarket worker died after his 4×4 skidded on ice and slid into the path of another vehicle, an inquest heard.

Richard Birks, 68, from Arkengarthdale, died when his Daihatsu Terios collided with a Citroen van in snowy conditions on Range Road, near Catterick Garrison, on December 29 last year.

An inquest yesterday at Harrogate Justice Centre heard that Mr Birks, who worked on the checkouts at Tesco in Catterick Garrison, was not wearing his seatbelt at the time of the crash.

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Coroner Rob Turnbull concluded that this may have contributed to his death.

The hearing was also told that the ice had formed after water had flowed onto the road down a nearby gravel track from military ranges.

Officials from North Yorkshire County Council and the Ministry of Defence, which owned the track, held a meeting weeks before the accident to discuss ways of stopping water flowing onto the road.

But while the county council did the mitigation work it had agreed to do to ensure water did not flow onto the road, the Ministry of Defence had not yet completed the work it had proposed to do by the time of the accident.

Richard Marr, county council highways area manager, who gave evidence, said his authority had done further work since the accident, but while the Ministry of Defence had “made a conviction” to do its improvements, the work had still not been done.

The scene of last year’s crash.

Mr Marr said that the latest work to find a permanent solution to the problem involved clearing out drainage pipes which ran down the track and under the road.

Officials had been unaware of the pipes until the mitigation work began after the accident.

The inquest heard the road had been gritted the previous day and less than half an hour before the crash.

The inquest heard Mr Birks was travelling to work at Tesco on the morning of the crash.

Witness Russell Williams told how he had been following Mr Birks’ vehicle before the accident

He said there was several inches of snow on the Tank Road and Mr Birks had been driving so slow that he had considered overtaking in his own 4×4.

Mr Williams said he saw the Daihatsu go out of control on the corner and slide sideways into the van.

After the accident Mr Williams told how he walked up the road to warn other vehicles and found it “like a skating rink” on the corner.

Drayman Mark Wallis, who had been driving the Citroen van, said he had been going less than 20mph because of the snowy conditions at the time of the collision.

He said: “All of a sudden (Mr Birks’ car) was coming straight towards me and it was going, I thought, quite fast.”

Mr Wallis, who had his 12-year-old son in the van with him, said all he had time to do was brake and turn left into the verge to try and avoid the car coming sideways towards him.

He said at first he did think the collision had been serious.

He added: “I expected us both to jump out and be effing and blinding about the weather conditions and the state of the vehicles.”

However, he found Mr Birks unconscious in the vehicle.

Stephen Kirkbright, collision investigator for North Yorkshire Police, also gave evidence.

He said police noticed the patch of ice when an ambulance tried to drive up the hill past the crash scene and its wheels started spinning.

He concluded that Mr Birks lost control after his vehicle lost traction on the corner. The Daihatsu’s driver side door then hit the corner of the van.

He added: “The fact Mr Birks was unrestrained may have contributed to his fatal injuries.”

The inquest heard from Mr Birks’ wife Barbara who said her husband had previously used a seatbelt until having a operation on his chest.

Concluding that Mr Birks died in a road traffic collision, the coroner said Mr Birks and the driver of the van had both been driving in accordance with the road conditions.

He said: “The accident was inevitable once the loss of control had occurred.

“Mr Birks suffered serious injuries in that impact not helped by the fact that he wasn’t wearing a seatbelt.

“If he had who knows what the outcome may have been.”

Following last year’s collision, Mr Birks’ family issued a statement saying he had left behind his wife, three sons, a stepdaughter and three grandchildren.

He was described as an extremely kind and loving father who was incredibly proud of his family and they of him.

Mr Birks was also a popular and well-known figure in  the community in Arkengarthdale.

Tributes were also made by staff at Tesco, who described him as a beloved colleague and friend.

Tesco paid tribute to Mr Birks on its Facebook page.