Inquest: Airman culpable in ’04 road death
RAF MILDENHALL, England — A British coroner has ruled that a U.S. airman unlawfully killed a pregnant English woman who died in 2004 after the airman hit her vehicle on a motorway.
Such a finding from an investigation, known as an inquest, could lead to charges. But Senior Airman David McDuffie has already been court-martialed for the death. The finding in the English system is meant to give the family of victim Emma James some resolution, assistant Oxfordshire coroner Dr. Richard Whittington said Friday.
“The point in this case is that it’s giving the family closure,” he said. “It is consistent with the findings of the American court-martial.”
Both the court-martial and the inquest focused on McDuffie’s diagnosed case of sleep apnea and how he had been warned to avoid driving when sleepy. McDuffie crossed into James’ lane right before the accident, striking her vehicle nearly head-on.
Sleep apnea is a disorder that affects a person’s breathing and prevents them from getting a good night’s sleep, leaving them tired and listless throughout the day.
“It was reckless of him to drive,” Whittington said. “He should have known the consequences. It was reckless and that’s what makes it unlawful.”
McDuffie was court-martialed in 2005 and was sentenced to a year of confinement, reduction to E-2 and a bad-conduct discharge.
McDuffie had not been discharged from the Air Force as of Friday, according to officials at the Air Force Personnel Center. He is on inactive status, still in the service but not on active duty, and is on appellate review leave, according to AFPC spokesman Steve VanWert.
The Oxford Mail, which first reported the inquest’s findings last week, reported that McDuffie served “fewer than five months” of his sentence. Air Force officials did not confirm the length of time McDuffie served in jail by Stars and Stripes’ deadline Friday.
James, 33, was driving on the A420 roadway south of Oxford on Aug. 10, 2004, when the collision occurred. McDuffie was on duty and was driving from RAF Fairford to RAF Croughton.
A staff sergeant who was riding with McDuffie and suffered two broken legs in the collision testified in 2005 that he shouted and turned toward McDuffie as the car crossed into the other lane.
“His head was down like he was (sleeping), but I couldn’t tell if his eyes were closed or not,” Staff Sgt. Roy Reynolds testified.
Whittington said he took on the inquest in the past two or three weeks and would not say why it was being completed more than three years after the fatal collision.
The crash “was an absolute tragedy,” Whittington said. “This young lady was expecting a baby. She was a completely innocent motorcar driver.”