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