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Friday, 11 January, 2002, 17:32 GMT
Crash driver 'suffering sleep disorder'
Lorries on the M20 motorway in Kent
The court heard Mr Couldridge fell asleep on the M20
Eyewitnesses of a fatal crash have told a court of their terror as a lorry swerved across a motorway in Kent and ploughed into a car.

An engaged couple died after the lorry smashed through the central reservation and hit their car.

On Friday, Maidstone Crown Court heard that lorry driver, Paul Couldridge, had fallen asleep on the M20.

The court was told that Mr Couldridge had nodded off at the wheel on several occasions in the past.

The lorry ploughed through the barrier and was heading straight for me. I thought 'this is it'

Witness Robert Hill
Doctors had told Mr Couldridge he should not drive after he was diagnosed with the sleeping disorder, obstructive sleep apnoea, in 1999.

But Mr Couldridge, 44, from Kent, who denies two charges of causing death by dangerous driving, continued working as a lorry driver.

The court heard his HGV swerved across three lanes of the motorway on 20 September, 2000, ploughing through the central reservation and into an oncoming BMW.

Stephen Williams, 24, from Welling, south-east London, and Sheila Ryan, 25, of Wallington, Surrey, died in the crash.

The lorry had drifted across the rumble strip and crashed into the side of a broken down van, before swerving across the carriageways and into the path of the car.

Eyewitness, Gavin Knight, from Maidstone in Kent, said: "I saw the cab snaking across the other carriageway...and I could see the driver fighting with the steering wheel as if trying to gain control.

'Crushed car'

"The cab was heading towards me and I was aware of a big, yellow artic lorry beside me and I thought the cab would hit me.

"I could still see the driver fighting with the steering wheel and I tensed up and accelerated.

"I came through it and looked in the mirror, and the cab appeared to be bouncing as if it had been over a big bump and I saw it hit the artic.

"A car was very badly crushed and I saw a body in the road."

Following his arrest, Mr Couldridge, of Ingolsby Road, Gravesend, told police he would rather have died than see the two people perish.

In a police interview read to the court, he said: "I wish I'd died myself instead of those that have."

He claimed he did not know he had a sleep disorder and refused to give permission for police to have access to his medical records.

'Explosion' worry

He said he had no recollection of getting on to the M20 or how the crash happened.

He said: "I was just going along, just driving along, and then it was there. The accident was there, I just don't know.

"I was just going along the M20 and that was it. That's all I can tell you, that's the God honest truth. I've no reason to lie.

"I think I can either remember getting dragged out of the lorry or getting slung out.

"I remember two men saying 'hurry up' as the lorry was going to explode and I would be toast."

Consultant neurologist Dr William Michael, who assessed Mr Couldridge after the crash, said the concussion he sustained could not account for his lack of memory about veering on to the hard shoulder.

The case was adjourned until Tuesday.

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