Seaham dad's fatal car crash off Washington road could have been caused by sneeze, inquest hears

A dad crashed his car after a sneeze, which was overheard on a phone call as his car left the road, an inquest was told.

Tuesday, 1st June 2021, 10:59 am

Tom Dixon was in his black Citroen DS3 on the A1231 Sunderland Highway on the morning of Sunday, November 1, last year when it veered off the dual carriageway near the sliproad off Windlass Lane.

He collided with trees and a fence, with his car coming to rest on the field of Washington Academy school.

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A photo of Tom Dixon shared by his family as they paid tribute to the 30-year-old.
A photo of Tom Dixon shared by his family as they paid tribute to the 30-year-old.

The inquest into the 30-year-old’s was told the delivery driver died due to a head injury and had suffered fractures to his arms likely to be caused as he braced himself during the crash – he also had cocaine in his system.

In evidence read by Derek Winter, the senior coroner for the City of Sunderland, it was said Mr Dixon had been on the talking on the phone using the Bluetooth system in his car when he said “Two seconds” which was followed by the sound of a sneeze.

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The caller then heard the crash as it happened and Mr Dixon’s reaction.

The collision happened on the sliproad off the A1231 Sunderland Highway, with Tom Dixon's car coming to rest on the field of Washington Academy. Image copyright Google.

The Northumbria Police report into the incident, which happened just after 8.30am, detailed how the car was seen moving “slowly and gradually” to the left of the east-bound carriageway.

Pc Russell Blenkinsop, who carried out investigations, detailed the findings of Professor Ronald Eccles, a former director of the Common Cold Centre, who found a sneeze can last between half and three seconds and can cause involuntary closure of the eyes – known as automatism.

No mechanical failures were found with the car and Mr Dixon had not been travelling above the speed limit.

Dr Jennifer Bolton, who carried out the post mortem examination, found the head injury caused his death and tests established Mr Dixon, of Ross Street in Seaham, had cocaine in his system at the time.

Pc Blenkinsop concluded in his report Mr Dixon had taken cocaine and due to sneezing had “suffered an episode of automatism” and lost control of his car.

Mr Winter recorded the conclusion of the inquest was Mr Dixon died due to a road traffic collision.

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