A man who lost control of a wheelchair he was pushing died after it dragged him into the path of an articulated lorry, an inquest heard.

Ian Raper, 49, who had been using the chair to carry his possessions and as a walking aid, suffered severe head injuries at a temporary pedestrian crossing on Woodland Road in Darlington.

He had just discharged himself from Darlington Memorial Hospital when he was killed near the junction with Hollyhurst Road at about 10am on April 29 last year.

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An inquest at Crook Coroners’ Court heard Mr Raper, from Coatham Mundeville, was pronounced dead at the scene.

Waste recycler Andre Fletcher, from Darlington, witnessed the incident from the Renault Traffic van he was driving.

He said: “He was pushing the wheelchair. It looked to me as though the front wheel has sort of slipped off the kerb and it dragged him into the road.

“That is why he has gone in front of the wagon.

“I pressed my hand on the horn as hard as I could to warn the driver. The driver has stopped straight away.”

Mr Fletcher said he got out of his van to help but could see Mr Raper was dead so he ran back to get his phone to call 999.

The inquest was told Mr Raper was identified using fingerprint records stored on the police database.

Sergeant Chris Milburn, of Durham Constabulary, who led the police investigation said: “Mr Raper suffered what we would class as a catastrophic head injury and was pronounced deceased at the scene.”

He said the Mercedes-Benz tractor, which was towing a shipping container, was registered to PD Ports in Middlesbrough and had no defects.

Lorry driver Brian McCann was arrested on suspicion of causing death by dangerous driving at the time but no further action was taken after police carried out their investigation.

Mr McCann told police he had been aware of a man pushing a wheelchair but believed he had moved further up the road.

Mr McCann, who had been talking to a friend at the time using a phone connected to his vehicle by Bluetooth, told police he checked his mirrors before setting off and said Mr Raper may have been in a blind spot.

The inquest heard Mr Raper weighed 34kg while the wheelchair and his possessions weighed 27kg, 80 per cent of his bodyweight, which could have had a significant bearing on the incident.

Forensic toxicology tests found THC was found in Mr Raper’s system suggesting he had recently used cannabis as well as traces of the sleeping tablet Zopiclone, codeine and low levels of alcohol.

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The inquest was told the impact of these substances in Mr Raper’s blood was ‘difficult to predict’ but could cause drowsiness.

A post-mortem examination by Home Office Pathologist Sam Hoggard found the cause of death was a blunt head injury.

Assistant Coroner for County Durham and Darlington Simon said Mr McCann would have been unable to see Mr Raper.

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He said: “He did not, and I find this as a matter of fact, could not have, seen Mr Raper due to a blind spot when Mr Raper was stood at the side of the road seemingly intending to use the crossing.

“Mr Raper seemed to stumble and lose control of his wheelchair which collided with the HGV and resulted in Mr Raper’s fatal injuries.”    

Mr Connolly recorded the conclusion that Mr Raper died following a road traffic collision.

He passed on his condolences to the family members present and said: “I sincerely hope that you are collectively able to take some degree of closure from the conclusion of the proceedings.”