TRIBUTES have been paid to a Royal Navy veteran who died behind the wheel of his motorhome seconds before it collided head on with a council truck.
The death of Richard Granville Cooke, of Seafield Park Road, Fareham, was the subject of an inquest at Bournemouth Coroner’s Court yesterday.
He was driving on the A31, near Wimborne, just after 10am on July 24 when he suffered a tear in his heart, which killed him and caused him to swerve into the path of an oncoming DAF tipper truck.
The driver of the truck, Steve Roper, from Weymouth, slammed the brakes on but could not do anything to avoid the collision.
He broke his wrist and ribs, as well as suffering cuts and bruises.
The 42-year-old said: ‘As soon as I saw him drift over on to my side of the road I braked so hard I left skid marks. I knew there was going to be an impact. I braced myself on the steering wheel and closed my eyes.
‘I had no time to swerve. All I could do was brake as hard as I could.’
Mr Cooke, who had served at HMS Nelson and fought in the Gulf War, was pronounced dead at the scene.
Mr Roper said: ‘I just wish I could have done more.
‘I keep playing it over and over again, thinking “if only I had done this or that” but nothing would have changed what happened.’
Mr Cooke’s wife Joyce was in the passenger seat of the motorhome and survived, despite the front of the motorhome being pierced and crushed by the truck’s snowplough.
She was airlifted to hospital with serious injuries and said she could not remember anything about the crash.
At yesterday’s inquest she described her husband as ‘loving’ and said they were looking forward to spending their retirement travelling in their motorhome which they had bought new three weeks before the accident.
Mrs Cooke, a retired nurse, said: ‘I know now that whatever I would have done that I could not have saved him.
‘It is closure.’
She said she felt lucky to be alive. She added: ‘I am sorry that the incident has caused the truck driver so much hurt and damage.
‘I would also like to thank all those at Southampton General Hospital and the paramedics who worked so hard to help me survive. They were all so helpful.’
Mr Cooke’s only son Giles Cooke, from Dartford, said: ‘I loved my dad very much. I am sorry that he is gone. He was a good friend and he will surely be missed.’
Coroner Sheriff Payne said: ‘This was sadly a natural event that was totally unpredictable.’
He ruled Mr Cooke’s death as due to natural causes.