A POPULAR GP who died after her car collided with a lorry had a heart abnormality which could have caused her to black out at the wheel, an inquest heard.
Dr Annie Baughan (61) had worked at New Milton Health Centre under her maiden name of Rutherford for more than two decades before retiring last year.
She was returning to her home in Sway on 6th June after her weekly stint as a volunteer at a soup kitchen for the homeless in Southampton when it is thought she fell unconscious near the turning for New Park Manor on the A337 near Brockenhurst at around 5pm.
Winchester Coroner’s Court heard how CCTV inside lorry driver Gary Pitman’s vehicle showed Dr Baughan’s car leaving her side of the road and veering straight towards the oncoming traffic.
Mr Pitman said he had travelled along the road frequently and had been a lorry driver for 20 years. On the day of the crash he had been heading to Romsey from Lymington for his last delivery of the day.
He said: “You don’t expect a car to come straight at you and not brake. I was braking but I couldn’t do anything. There was nowhere for me to go.”
Pathologist Dr Eleanor Jaynes, who carried out the post-mortem examination, told the inquest that Dr Baughan had suffered multiple injuries in the head-on collision.
She explained that the examination also revealed an abnormality in her heart muscle, which may have caused an arrythmia, causing her to fall unconscious.
A heart arrythmia occurs when the electrical impulses that coordinate a person’s heartbeat work too fast, slowly or irregularly.
The inquest also heard from forensic crash investigators PC Emma Pragnell and PC David Blake, who examined Dr Baughan’s car and Mr Pitman’s lorry respectively.
Both said neither vehicle had any pre-collision defects, and neither driver had been distracted by the use of a mobile phone.
PC Blake explained to the court that he had checked the lorry’s tachograph, which measures a vehicle’s speed, distance and rest periods, and added all was in order and lawful.
Despite braking, Mr Pitman had no chance of avoiding Dr Baughan’s vehicle, PC Pragnell added.
Off-duty paramedic Matthew Lloyd had been driving in front of the lorry after finishing a shift that afternoon at Lyndhurst ambulance station.
He told the inquest: “I began to notice Annie’s vehicle drifting into the northbound lane. It all happened so quickly. I managed to swerve out of the way and brake, missing her by centimetres really.
“Looking in my rearview mirror, I could see her vehicle impact with the lorry. There were no brake lights illuminated.”
Mr Lloyd and his fellow ambulance colleagues with whom he was travelling came to Dr Baughan’s aid but could find no sign of breathing or a pulse. He added: “Her injuries appeared significant.”
Angela Lebbern, who was a chef at the soup kitchen, said in a statement that Dr Baughan had been volunteering weekly for around six months and had arrived that day at around 12.30pm.
She helped prepare lunch and the evening meal before leaving at 4.30pm. Mrs Lebbern said she was her usual chatty and friendly self and did not appear to be unwell. She added: “Annie was a great help and a wonderful, caring person.”
Speaking at the end of the inquest, her husband Chris Baughan said: “She was a fantastic person. She was full of life, full of energy. She was kind, considerate, fun. I was lucky to have lived with her for 35 years.”
Coroner Samantha Marsh, who recorded a conclusion that Dr Baughan died as result of a road traffic collision, said: “What a bright light Annie appeared to be. She sounds a very caring, selfless person.”
As reported in the A&T, Dr Baughan set up and helped at a host of local organisations, was a champion of mental health care and a passionate advocate of access to healthcare.
She had been a governor at St Luke’s Church of England Primary School in Sway, regularly going into classes to help children read, and was actively involved in church youth groups in Brockenhurst and Sway.
She also ran a Tuesday evening group for youngsters, a knitting group in Brockenhurst, was part of the village choir Sing Sway, the welfare officer at Sway Cricket Club and a member of the Sway Welfare Action Group (SWAG).