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Pensioner kills wife after falling asleep at the wheel and causing a crash Cranbrook Road, Tenterden

A 72-year-old man killed his wife in a head-on collision in Tenterden because he had fallen asleep at the wheel.

Pensioner Thomas Whibley was at the wheel of his Peugeot when it crossed the line and hit an oncoming car - with a mum and a two-year-old child inside.

A poignant note was left by the roadside in memory of Sylvia Whibley
A poignant note was left by the roadside in memory of Sylvia Whibley

Today, a judge at Maidstone Crown Court has heard how "stubborn" Whibley knew he was suffering from sleep deprivation apnoea - but had carried on driving.

It was also revealed that he had nodded off at the wheel three times in the weeks before the crash in April last year.

Whibley's wheelchair-bound wife Sylvia, 82, died at the scene in Cranbrook Road, Tenterden - despite a heroic effort to save her by an off duty firefighter.

Duncan Horlock came across the crash and began CPR treatment after Mrs Whibley collapsed in the passenger seat - carrying on even after paramedics arrived.

Judge Phillip Statman commented: "His behaviour was wholly commendable and he did everything he could to assist. He could have done no more."

Mrs Whibley, who lived with her husband in Temple Way, East Malling, died from her injuries. The driver of a Nissan Qashqai, Claire Brockman, who was travelling with her child, received fractures and spent two days in hospital and six more weeks on crutches.

"She described the male drive as being in a daze and just staring straight ahead and not blinking..."

Whibley admitted his dangerous driving caused his wife's death and Ms Brockman's serious injuries and has been jailed for 32 months and banned from driving for life.

The judge told him: "The fact is you have taken a life and you will live with the consequences of your actions for the rest of your life."

Prosecutor Dominic Connolly told how the accident happened at 5pm on April 13 last year on the two-lane Cranbrook Road described as a "bendy, tight country lane".

He said as Mrs Brockman was driving in an "exemplary" manner" towards Tenterden she saw the Peugeot Independent coming in the opposite direction.

"The vehicle was already over the white line when she saw it and it was drifting further.

"She described the male drive as being in a daze and just staring straight ahead and not blinking. She said there was no reaction.

"She said because of the high verge she was unable to swerve to avoid the collision."

The prosecutor said when Mrs Brockman saw steam coming from her vehicle, she kicked open the doors and rescue her child - despite suffering a broken hip and a fracture to the bottom of her spine.

The child was "very shaken" but escaped with grazes and bruises.

"You will live with the consequences of your actions for the rest of your life..."

The prosecutor said the police investigation revealed how Whibley had sought help for sleep apnea 11 years ago but had not disclosed it when applying for his licence being renewed.

He said the condition affects one in five people in Britain causing them to nod off during the day.

But Judge Statman heard that Whibley has three times fallen asleep in the weeks leading up to the crash - leading other motorists to alert the police.

Mrs Whibley had been a carer for one of her children who had now had to move to a relative 300 miles away. The couple had married in 1991 and Whibley, who was born in Coxheath, had worked at a paper mill in Tovil after leaving school.

The judge told him he had been stubborn and had disregarded warnings about his sleep deprivation.

"Your late wife was a proud woman and much loved by her family and friends and I accept the remorse you have shown is genuine."

Speaking after the case, PC Dawn Smith said: "This was a tragic incident caused by a driver who was aware he could fall asleep at any moment due to sleep apnoea.

"He caused the death of his wife and serious injury to a young mother and will have to live with the consequences for the rest of his life.

"I would remind all motorists to remain alert for signs of tiredness and take a precautionary break from driving if necessary.

"I would also emphasise that anybody with a diagnosed notifiable medical condition or disability that could affect their driving, should contact the DVLA at their earliest opportunity."

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