Carer, 44, had finished 12-hour night shift before she and niece, 17, were killed in crash near Axminster

PUBLISHED: 12:00 19 January 2018 | UPDATED: 23:10 19 January 2018

County Hall. Ref exe 04-17 5942. Picture: Terry Ife

County Hall. Ref exe 04-17 5942. Picture: Terry Ife

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Toni Sloman and teenager Micha both sustained fatal injuries when their vehicle collided with a van near Axminster in 2016.

A mother who had been awake for more than 19 hours died in a head-on crash which also killed her 17-year-old niece, an inquest heard.

Night carer Toni Sloman, 44, and her niece Micha were both travelling towards Axminster in Citroën Xsara Picasso with her four-year-old son Jozef and sister Tia when they crashed into an oncoming van.

The fatal collision happened on the A358 between Axminster and Chard on October 17, 2016 when Toni’s vehicle crossed the other side of the road and collided with the van.

The inquest, at Devon County Hall on Wednesday, January 17, heard that Toni was driving the day after completing her third 12-hour night shift of the week at Silverleigh Nursing Home in Axminster on Sunday, October 16.

Toni’s sister Tia, who was seriously injured in the collision, described Toni as ‘bright and chirpy’ when she picked her, Micha and Jozef up from their home at 9.30am on Monday.

The inquest heard that the four drove to Chard and then on to Taunton to do some shopping. They then went to McDonalds for lunch.

Tia said: “Toni had stayed with us and had not complained about feeling unwell.”

Tia told the inquest she had no memory of the crash – she recalled waking up surrounded by paramedics and being told Toni had crossed over the carriageway and collided with a truck.

The injuries Tia sustained in the collision included broken ribs and sternum, internal bleeding and multiple bruising, and she was airlifted to hospital.

Jozef was uninjured in the collision.

The inquest heard that the collision may have been caused by Toni experiencing a series of microsleeps - a brief sleep episode that lasts up to 30 seconds, during which a person temporarily loses consciousness.

Microsleeps can be induced from monotonous tasks such a driving.

Self-employed driver Richard Nash, who was operating the van, said in a statement he had mere seconds to react to Toni’s oncoming vehicle.

Mr Nash said he was driving up hill at around 20 miles per hour when Toni’s Citroën came into his view.

He said: “I thought it [Toni’s car] was overtaking another car but there was no car to overtake.

“I felt that the red car was not going back into its side, so I slammed on the brakes.”

Mr Nash, who suffered minor injuries in the collision, added: “I have constantly thought about the collision and realise there was nothing I could have done differently.

“I had braked as soon as I saw the car. The vehicle was in my sight for one to two seconds before impact.”

Rowland Simmons, an electronics engineers, saw Toni’s vehicle collide with the van.

He told the court there was ‘no apparent effort’ was made by the car’s driver to move back into the correct lane, adding: “I thought to myself ‘If the car does not move onto the correct side of the road, the two vehicles were going to hit’.”

Mr Simmons said the sun was very low that day and directly in front of his vehicle before Toni’s car crossed the carriageway and collided with the van.

The inquest heard that Micha, a student, was born with VATER syndrome, a set of birth defects which often occur together, and had not expected to reach the age of 18.

Dr Christopher Mason, consultant pathologist at Wonford Hospital in Exeter, noted that Micha had congenital heart disease which had been surgically repaired.

He said the most likely cause of the teenager’s death was the multiple injuries she sustained in the collision.

Micha’s GP, Dr Jonathan Allen of Axminster Medical Practice, described the teenager as a ‘very brave’ young woman who tolerated her poor health during her life.

Micha was born in Taunton six weeks early and had three holes in her heart.

She also had a kidney transplant and underwent her last operation in 2016.

Dr Mason’s report of Toni said she had a history of cardiomyopathy in 2014, a disease of the heart muscle, which had since been resolved.

He said there were no drugs or alcohol in Toni’s system before she died, and her death was caused by the injuries sustained in the collision.

PC Scott Robertson, a forensic collision investigator, told the inquest that the weather was dry and clear when the crash happened.

He said he could not determine how fast either vehicle was travelling before the collision.

PC Robertson said Toni had been ‘likely been awake for 19 hours’ before the collision as she worked a 12-hour night shift before driving to Taunton.

He told the inquest: “It is possible the driver had experienced a series of microsleeps on the journey to Axminster.”

Coroner Dr Elizabeth Earland said she was satisfied that Toni and Micha’s deaths were caused by multiple injuries.

She added that congenital heart disease contributed towards, but did not cause, Micha’s death, which was ‘virtually instantaneous’.

Dr Earland concluded a verdict of accidental death for both Toni and Micha.

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