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Bus driver suffered 'microsleep' before fatal A47 crash at Guyhirn

A bus driver had a microsleep episode moments before a crash that killed him and a passenger, an inquest has concluded.

It follows the incident on June 26 2018, when a double decker bus collided with a Scania lorry on the A47 between Thorney and Guyhirn.

The driver of the bus, Michael Elcombe, 45, of Cley Road, Swaffham, was pronounced dead at the scene.

A bus passenger, Brian Chapman, 76, of Cherry Road, Kettering, was also pronounced dead after the collision left him with "multiple traumatic injuries".

Coroner Simon Milburn summed up the facts heard during the inquest, held at Peterborough Town Hall, today.

This included evidence that Mr Elcombe had a "microsleep" at the wheel moments before the collision occurred.

Mr Milburn said: "At 7.28am on June 26, 2018 a fatal collision occurred on the A47 at Wisbech St Mary outside of Bretts Transport.

"There were two vehicles involved, the double decker bus was being driven by Mr Elcombe who was employed by First Eastern Bus company, and was clearly an experienced driver.

"The bus was driving a scheduled route from Peterborough to Norwich. Mr Chapman was a top deck passenger on that bus."

The lorry driver, Tyrone Mundell-Phipps, gave live evidence in court on April 18, and Mr Milburn described him as a "experienced goods vehicle driver" who was familiar with the depot and the A47.

Mr Mundell-Phipps described stopping at the depot's junction, waiting for traffic to pass when a car flashed at the lorry, indicating he could come out of the junction.

"He proceeded with the turn thinking the bus would have time to slow down," said Mr Milburn.

"However, the bus continued towards the lorry at a speed of 53mph."

The coroner said that the dashcam footage from the bus showed that Mr Elcombe did not slow down.

"Clearly it shows Mr Elcombe didn't react until one second before the collision," said Mr Milburn.

"I'm satisfied neither weather or road conditions played a part in the collision."

The court heard on Tuesday that Sonia Elcombe, Mr Elcombe's wife, said that her husband had fallen asleep at the wheel before.

CCTV footage from the inside of the driver's compartment of the bus was reviewed by a sleep expert who said that Mr Elcombe had a "microsleep" – meaning he was asleep for a matter of seconds."It leads me to the conclusion it was a sleep-related collision," said Mr Milburn."He was inattentive due to drowsiness and not reacting to the trailer making an obvious obstruction.

"It is unclear why he was drowsy that morning.

"His wife said his sleep regime was poor, and would often go to bed at 1am and would arise for work at 4am."

Mrs Elcombe also told the court that he had been involved in a collision previously where he had fallen asleep.

Mr Milburn confirmed this happened before starting his bus driving job.

It was first concluded that passenger Mr Chapman's cause of death was multiple traumatic injuries caused by a road traffic collision.

The same cause of death was identified for Mr Elcombe.

At the end of the inquest, Mr Milburn said he believed that the Department of Transport could consider putting in regulations for seatbelts to become mandatory on buses.

Other passengers on the bus also faced "significant injuries".

However, it it was confirmed in court that Mr Chapman would not have been saved if he was wearing a seatbelt.

"It's more of an issue for the Department of Transport to provide more regulations," Mr Milburn said.

"I'm concerned that seatbelts are not mandatory for that type of journey."

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