Monday, 04 July 2022

Driver’s sun blindness caused fatal collision

Driver’s sun blindness caused fatal collision

A CYCLIST died after being struck by a van driver who had been momentarily “blinded” by sunlight.

Dr Saliya Jayaratne, 45, was killed instantly in the collision on the A4130 dual carriageway just beyond Fair Mile on the way out of Henley on June 13 last year.

Oxford Coroner’s Court heard on Tuesday how Colin Atkinson, 58, was in a Mercedes Sprinter driving home to Wallingford when he struck the cyclist.

Dr Jayaratne, of Phyllis Court Drive, Henley, suffered multiple injuries and was pronounced dead at the scene at 8.44pm.

The court heard that despite failing an impairment test on the day, Mr Atkinson did not face any criminal charges after telling police he hadn’t seen the cyclist due to the bright sunlight.

Assistant coroner Nicholas Graham read from some of the witness statements.

Stephen Ellis said he had overtaken the van and he hadn’t noticed the cyclist “until I was right on him”.

He told the police that stretch of road was “notorious” for strong sunlight.

An AA van driver who arrived at the scene shortly after the incident told police that he had been “blinded” by the sun.

“I’ve never seen it that bad,” he said.

Mr Atkinson was interviewed by police on June 14 and again on August 31.

In the first interview, he stated he had seen the cyclist “on the verge”.

He added: “Seconds later — bang — I didn’t see him. I stopped as quick as I could. I was in panic.”

Speaking about the sunlight, he said it was “like someone had put a flashlight in the windscreen”.

In the second interview, Mr Atkinson said he hadn’t seen Dr Jayarante at all and after passing a layby was “blinded” for three or four seconds. A statement by Pc Steven Hall, who had been on duty in the area, said that he had seen a cyclist looking “slightly wobbly who came out into the road”.

A cycling colleague of Dr Jayarante said the doctor had taken up cycling during lockdown and he had a style that was “a little wobbly”.

Pc James Henderson, a crash investigator who visited the site about two hours after the crash and again two days later, told the court that the setting sun was likely to have been a factor in the collision.

He said: “There is a small window [of time] where the sun comes over the trees and blinds you.”

Pc Henderson also testified about the speed limit on that stretch of road, 70mph for cars and motorcycles and 60mph for a van. He concluded that the estimated speed of 45mph for Mr Atkinson’s van at the time of the collision was plausible.

Summing up, Mr Graham said he was content that Mr Atkinson had been adhering to the speed limit. Speaking to Dr Jayarante’s father, who was in court, he said: “It is clear to me that the van collided with your son on a stretch of road where visibility was poor due to the sun.”

Mr Jayarante thanked the court, ambulance crews and the NHS for their help.

Mr Graham also read out a tribute to Dr Jayarante from Professor James Walker, head of international business and strategy at Henley Business School.

He said: “Saliya had been a colleague and friend to the international business and strategy department for many years, having worked with the late Prof Alan Rugman and myself on developing and teaching strategy on Henley’s full-time MBA between 2015 and 2017.

“Saliya was based in Henley and enjoyed his time visiting the Greenlands campus and working in the beautiful John H Dunning Library there.

“He was a dear, kind and charming man and will be sorely missed.”

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