Narcolepsy leads to fatal crash

'Charges against farmer dropped'
Charges against a Manakau farmer relating to an accident that left one person dead and another with serious injuries were dismissed in Levin District Court yesterday because of a medical condition which led to him falling asleep at the wheel of his car.

Andrew Norman Rutherford, 44, pleaded not guilty to causing the death of Lorraine Davis and bodily injury to Wilhelminus Joseph Bosman through the careless use of a motor vehicle. Two charges of overtaking in a careless manner were dismissed through lack of evidence.
Prosecutor, senior sergeant Evan Jennings said the Volkswagen car Mr Rutherford was driving failed to take a left-hand bend in the road and carried on across the road in a straight line colliding with an oncoming motorcycle.
The accident happened on May 10 at about 2.40pm on State Highway I near Otaki.
Lorraine Davis, the pillion passenger, was thrown from the bike and died. As a result of the accident her companion had his right arm amputated at the shoulder and lost his eyesight.
The defence counsel said Mr Rutherford suffered from a medical condition which led to him falling asleep at the wheel of his car and the subsequent accident.
Mr Rutherford said that he could not remember the details of the accident as he was injured himself and spent three days in Palmerston North Hospital.
He had a head wound with lacerations to the forehead and chin and suffered pre and post trauma amnesia.
Mr Rutherford said that he had milked his cows on the Sunday morning of the accident then gone to church. He said he always took his medication on Sunday morning to stop him falling asleep during the service,
Mr Rutherford said that he had suffered from excessive sleepiness ever since he could remember and had sought medical treatment for it seven years ago. A neurologist in Palmerston North diagnosed him as suffering from narcolepsy.
He was taking medication for the condition and believed it was under control. The defendant said he had never been told by a doctor of any dangers of driving with his condition.
The defendant said he was aware of his problem and had fallen asleep at the wheel of a tractor when he was younger. He said he tried not to drive alone and always pulled over to take a rest if he felt sleepy while driving. He always took medication if he knew he would be driving for longer than three quarters of an hour.
Mr Rutherford's wife said that on the afternoon of the accident she had phoned her husband asking him to drive to Waikanae in a van because her sister was too sick to be driven home in the car. Mrs Rutherford drove her sister home to Manakau in the van and Mr Rutherford drove the Volkswagen.
Mrs Rutherford was about six hours behind her husband when the accident happened.
A Wellington neurologist called for the defence said that after talking to Mr Rutherford about his medical problem he was quite certain the defendant had fallen asleep at the wheel of his car.
He said the defendant might not be suffering from narcolepsy, that it could be something else, as not all the necessary tests had been carried out, but confirmed the defendant suffered from excessive sleepiness.
Judge P. Toomey said falling asleep at the wheel and causing an accident without a medical explanation would be considered carelessness.
However, he said the defendant was suffering from a health problem which led to his falling asleep and causing the accident.
He said that there was no evidence the defendant had any warning he was getting sleepy and he was taking reasonable steps to control his problem.
The prosecution did not call any witnesses.

© 2005 Horowhenua Kapiti Chronicle

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' Man trapped in car after falling asleep at wheel '

Two serious crashes near Rotorua have police pleading with Bay of Plenty drivers to not make December another horrific month on the roads.
One driver is lucky to be alive after falling asleep at the wheel on State Highway 5, south of Waimangu Rd at Ngakuru. The man's car clipped an oncoming truck, causing the car to bounce off the truck and crash into a ditch. The crash happened around 10.50am yesterday.

The driver was trapped in the car, but was cut free. He was in a critical, but stable, condition when he was airlifted to Rotorua Hospital by the Tenon Rescue Helicopter.
Around the same time, a logging truck rolled on State Highway 5 north of Rotorua, 10km south of the Fitzgerald Glade.
The truck spilled its logs across the road, causing one lane to be closed to traffic for more than two hours.
The driver, who worked for a Whakatane firm, was trapped in the cab for 45 minutes before being cut free. He was treated for leg, arm and neck injuries by St John Ambulance staff before being taken to Waikato Hospital, in a serious condition, by the Westpac Waikato Air Ambulance.
Senior Sergeant Ed van den Broek of the Rotorua Police Strategic Traffic Unit said both crashes had the potential to cause fatalities. He said 12 people were killed on Bay of Plenty roads in December last year.
"That is a horrendous result. December is a silly month. People are in too much of a hurry and are not taking the proper rest stops and breaks. We want to make sure there are as many families as possible sitting around the dinner table at Christmas time and not morning the loss of a loved one.".....

©2005 Rotorua Daily Post.

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Stories Reported in New Zealand Newspapers

Highway Saviour

It took Fulton Hogan staff just 20 minutes to repair 30 metres of collapsed median barrier yesterday on the killer coastal highway north of wellington after a car collided with the barrier demolishing 24 posts. The driver walked away from what could have been a deadly accident had he crossed the centre line.

Senior Constable Keith Reay above right said the northbound car careered over the rumble strips before hitting the barrier. The posts collapsed as designed and the wire rope prevented the car from crossing the centre line The car was moderately damaged and undriveable but the driver escaped injury, Mr Reay said.
"The barrier was terrific it undoubtedly prevented a more serious accident, possibly a head on." It is the second time this year the 700 metre wire-rope barrier on the Centennial Highway, built last year after seven people died in three crashes has proved its worth.
In January a driver swiped three posts but kept driving.....

©2005 Fairfax New Zealand

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Trial barrier has already saved at least one life'

A trial rope barrier, installed along a 700 metre stretch of the coast road late last year, has already saved at least one life.
Transit NZ cameras showed a driver hit the barrier six weeks ago but carried on driving, apparently unhurt.
The Kapiti woman had fallen asleep at the wheel, regional councillor Chris Turner said.

Had the barrier not been there, she would have crossed the centreline and hit two oncoming cars, he said." She only survived because of the barrier. Even that short length of road has saved a life. I can't understand why it takes so long to do the analysis when the analysis has already proved the value of the system......

©2005 Fairfax New Zealand

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Car crashes prompt call to cut hours for doctors

OVERWORKED junior doctors are falling asleep at the wheel driving to and from the job, prompting a union call to cut working hours amid fears for patient safety.
Resident Doctors Association general secretary Deborah Powell said at least seven junior doctors had fallen asleep driving to or from work after working more than 16-hour days in the past 18 months.

In every case, the car went off the road. One vehicle was written off after hitting a lamp-post but none of the drivers was injured. Dr Powell said it was just sheer luck that no one had been killed.
" Do we really have to wait till a doctor crashes across the median barrier driving home from the Hutt and kills another motorist or themselves or a patient before something is done? "
Some junior doctors at Wellington and Hutt hospitals worked long hours with heavy workloads, prompting the introduction of temporary measures to alleviate the problem. She said Hutt Hospital junior doctors in surgery, orthopaedics and gynaecology regularly worked more than 16-hour days or 72-hour weeks. This included on-call time.
The doctors had complained to the union that they were working unsafe hours and they were scared for their own safety as well as that of the patients, she said. As a result patients arriving at Hutt Hospital between midnight and 8am needing surgery, gynaecological or orthopaedic care were now being sent to Wellington Hospital to give the registrars a rest. Dr Powell said that there was concern at Wellington Hospital over the long hours worked by neurosurgery and cardiothoracic surgery registrars and their midnight to dawn shifts were being temporarily filled by locums.
At a meeting between the union and Capital Coast and Hutt Valley district health boards on April 29, several options would be examined in a bid to solve the problems. Dr Powell said the union had similar concerns at hospitals run by the Auckland, Southland and Taranaki district health boards.
Both Wellington and Hutt were busy hospitals which meant in addition to long hours, doctors had heavy workloads. In Hutt, more staff might be needed, which meant more money - "often you run into a problem with safety on one side and money on the other and I think that's what we are running into at Hutt".
Hutt Hospital general manager Warrick Frater said since the measures had been put in place last Thursday, two patients had been sent to Wellington Hospital. It was a complicated issue and trying to recruit more doctors was not the answer, he said, because concern centred on the amount of on-call time and there would not be enough day work for extra doctors. He said registrars had to fulfill certain requirements to qualify in their speciality and he did not want to see a situation where rosters lengthened the time junior doctors took to qualify.
A Capital and Coast spokesman said there was a problem in the sub-specialties and, in addition to hiring locums, rosters were being reviewed......

© 2005 Fairfax New Zealand

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