Student who drowned in River Wear was ’twice the drink-drive limit’

EUAN COULTHARD ... found in the River Wear after a night out with friends.
EUAN COULTHARD ... found in the River Wear after a night out with friends.
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A POPULAR student who was the first in his family to go to university would have had a blood reading of twice the drink-drive limit when he fell in a river and drowned, an inquest heard today.

Euan Coulthard, 19, was the third Durham University student in little over a year to die in the Wear following nights out.

There is only one conclusion, and that is Euan’s death was an accident. He didn’t intend to die.

Andrew Tweddle, coroner

His friends raised the alarm when the conscientious and academically-gifted law student failed to make it to lectures the day after an evening socialising in the city centre.

A civilian diver found him in the Wear nine days later in January, close to where he was last caught on CCTV on a riverside path.

At an inquest in Crook Civic Centre, pathologist Dr Mark Egan told Durham Coroner Andrew Tweddle that toxicology tests showed he had a blood-alcohol level of 167mg per 100ml of blood, compared to the drink-drive limit of 80mg.

The pathologist said: “For a normal social drinker this level would lead to the sense of intoxication, obvious drunkenness, unsteadiness of gait, slower reflexes and poor judgement or lack of judgment.”

He said Mr Coulthard, whose parents Hester and Ross attended the inquest, died from drowning.

Detective Inspector Dunlop McCubbin said the student from Bottesford, Leicestershire, had a couple of drinks at a student venue, been out for a meal to celebrate a friend’s 21st birthday, then gone to the Love Shack nightclub.

Door staff asked him to leave before midnight, and he was shown on CCTV stumbling through the city centre.

After crossing the Framwellgate Bridge, he headed down some steps towards the banks of the river. He was last seen on CCTV at the foot of the steps.

Mr Tweddle said some people had expressed concerns that there was something sinister about the spate of student deaths in the river.

He had previously conducted the inquests into the deaths of students Sope Peters and Luke Pearce.

But the detective said there was no sign of any third-party involvement in Mr Coulthard’s death.

Terry Collins, chairman of the Durham City Safety Group, told the inquest measures have been taken to reduce the risk to people.

Students are given taxi assistance to get home, a £50,000 grant has been given to the Students’ Union to work on safety, and a report from the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents has been commissioned.

He told the hearing: “We cannot totally mitigate the risk of a further fatality occurring. We will do everything we can to prevent one.”

Mr Tweddle said there was no single, simple solution.

“It also has to be said and noted that people need to take a certain degree of responsibility for their own actions as well,” he said.

Mr Tweddle asked the county council to consider putting up signs which he had seen in Scotland which said “Don’t drink and drown.”

He added: “There is only one conclusion, and that is Euan’s death was an accident. He didn’t intend to die.”

Mr Tweddle was “relieved” the police had found no suspicious circumstances.

Outside court, his family said in a statement: “Euan’s tragic death in the River Wear has left his mother, father and sister profoundly distressed and heartbroken.

“Euan, his smile like the rising sun, was a joy to all who knew and loved him.

“Academically gifted and hard-working, he was the first in his family to go to university.

“The world is now a much poorer place without this fine young man, our beautiful son Euan.

“We would like to thank again all those who helped in the seach for Euan: the police, Teesdale and Weardale Search and Rescue Team, County Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue Service, the local community and Euan’s fellow students, as well as the diver who found Euan.”