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EDITIONS
Thursday, 13 December, 2001, 13:12 GMT
Tragic results of driver fatigue
Selby
Ten people died in the crash in February
Kevin Bocquet

It was a tragedy of horrific proportions, a high speed collision which left 10 people dead and more than 70 injured.

The effects of fatigue on a motorist, Gary Hart, triggered a freakish chain reaction, and the result was mayhem.

Hart's Land Rover, towing another car on a trailer, plunged from the M62, down an embankment and ended up on the southbound track of the main East Coast railway line.

Hart could not move his vehicle and ran for help.

Gary Hart
Gary Hart: Denied falling asleep
Minutes later, a GNER express travelling from Newcastle to London at 125 miles an hour smashed into the Land Rover.

The train was derailed. It left the track, but continued for another 400 metres, before smashing into a northbound freight train, travelling at nearly 60 miles an hour.

Seconds before the crash, the terror was clearly discernible in Gary Hart's voice, when he contacted the emergency services by phone and told them he had driven his Land Rover onto a railway line.

This is a transcript of that conversation:

Operator: Hello, you're through to the police.

Gary Hart: Hello, er, I've had an accident on the M62. I've gone off the road and I've gone down an embankment, I'm on the railway line.

Op: Oh right, and the vehicle's blocking still on the railway line.

GH: Yeah, the vehicle's on the railway line, yeah......

Gary Hart then tries to explain his exact whereabouts on the M62.

Op: Right, OK, it's just that I'm going to need a better location than that. You're through to North Yorkshire police here.

GH: (voice rising) But there's a train coming!

There then follows the sound of train wheels screeching and a collision.

Op: Oh my God!

GH: The train's just gone straight through the front of my Land Rover.

The man driving the freight train, Stephen Dunn, was under instruction. He was killed outright.

Stephen Dunn
Train driver Stephen Dunn was killed in the crash
His supervisor, sitting alongside him, was Andy Hill. He survived the impact, and later recalled what had happened.

He said: "I saw the headlights of the high-speed train coming towards me with sparks flying up from under its wheels.

"As it hit the points one of the coaches jack-knifed in front of us. I thought we were going to hit it.

"Steve [the driver] was still sat in his seat and I said 'Steve, get out.' I didn't feel the collision. I was thrown about a bit and the next thing I knew, I was buried in soil struggling to breathe."


I saw the headlights of the high speed train coming towards me with sparks flying up from under its wheels

Andy Hill
All nine carriages of the passenger train were derailed, and one of them was flattened.

Another was actually flung into nearby fields.

The freight train was partially derailed and its front was knocked onto its side.

The first police officer to arrive at the incident saw Mr Hart standing behind a barrier back at the top of the embankment, waving his arms in the air.

A makeshift hospital was set up in the barn of a nearby farm so that 100 passengers could be treated before being flown to hospital or driven in one of a fleet of ambulances.

But 10 men died.

They were: Clive Vidgen, 39, Alan Ensor, 44, Barry Needham, 40, Professor Steve Baldwin, 39, and Christopher Terry, 30, all from the York area.

Robert Shakespeare, 43, from Beverley, John Weddle, 47, Paul Taylor, 42, both from Newcastle, Raymond Robson, 43, from Whitley Bay and Stephen Dunn, from Selby, also died.

Immediately after the crash, there was considerable public sympathy for Gary Hart.

He was himself seen as the victim of a macabre set of circumstances. At a news conference, his wife Elaine said her husband was too upset to appear in public, but she pleaded for understanding.

Land Rover wreckage
The express train collided with Mr Hart's Land Rover
But when the police reconstructed the journey made by Gary Hart, starting at his home in Lincolnshire, a different picture began to emerge.

He had set off at 5am. By his own admission, he had had no sleep, he had been up all night talking to a woman on the phone and on the internet.

The police traced other motorists, who had seen Hart driving erratically at high speed.

As part of the enquiry, Hart was taken back to the scene. At first he denied falling asleep at the wheel, but the police have no doubt what happened.

Jim Horn, from Loughborough University, studies sleeping habits.


You can't be driving along alert one minute and falling asleep the next.

Jim Horn
Sleep expert
He said: "Sleep doesn't come spontaneously from nowhere. You can't be driving along alert one minute and falling asleep the next. There's always adequate time to realise how sleepy you are."

In financial terms, the cost of the Selby crash was enormous. But the price paid in human terms was far worse.

Dozens of families had their lives ruined.

Mary Dunn, widow of the freight train driver, said: "To me it's fairly evident that the driver of the road vehicle was responsible for the accident. I don't feel any anger towards him.


It's fairly black and white that he was obviously to blame in that the road vehicle shouldn't have been on the railway

Mary Dunn
"But it's fairly black and white that he was obviously to blame, in that the road vehicle shouldn't have been on the railway."

Every year, dozens of accidents are caused by motorists driving while tired.

But never has a case of a driver falling asleep at the wheel had such devastating consequences.


Key stories

Background stories

KEY COURT STORIES

IN PICTURES

CLICKABLE CRASH GUIDE

AUDIO VIDEO
Links to more England stories are at the foot of the page.


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