‘Depressed’ pensioner took own life on M5

Thames Witkin

Thames Witkin - Credit: Archant

Family’s apoplogy to tearful lorry driver

The family of a much-loved Sidmouth pensioner, who took his own life by walking in front of motorway traffic, have apologised on his behalf to the tearful driver whose lorry hit him.

Siblings of Thames Witkin, who was 69, told the inquest into his death that their brother would not have wanted to cause distress to anyone – but ‘didn’t want to go on’ after suffering from ill health and depression.

The hearing at county hall on Wednesday heard how ‘charming and eccentric’ Mr Witkin caught the bus from his home in Meadway to near junction 31 of the M5 near Exeter on the morning of March 9 last year.

Witnesses saw him climbing an embankment to the busy road and sit on a barrier for a short spell.

He then stepped out into the carriageway and into the path of an 18-tonne articulated lorry travelling at around 56 miles per hour.

The inquest heard he suffered multiple injuries and would have been killed instantly.

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The man behind the wheel of the lorry, Graham Smith, an experienced HGV driver of 23 years, gave evidence at the hearing last Tuesday and said: “I saw this gentleman on the barriers and thought ‘Oh my god, he’s going to run’ – and that is what he did.

“It happened so quick and I was so close – I was shouting ‘Don’t!’ ”

Mr Witkin’s brother, Robert, said he had already written to Mr Smith about the incident, and told the inquest: “I can imagine the degree of distress this has caused Mr Smith and I am very sorry for that and apologise on my brother’s behalf.

“He wouldn’t have wanted to cause that distress on anyone, but he was distressed himself.”

Mr Smith fought back tears and thanked Mr Witkin – saying the words ‘did mean a lot’.

Mr Witkin said he was ‘certain’ his brother intended to take his own life with his actions, as persistent ill health had left him ‘deeply depressed’.

Andrew Cox, deputy coroner for Devon, returned a verdict that Mr Witkin had taken his own life.

He said: “There was nothing Mr Smith could have done to avoid this collision. He has suffered the misfortune of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

“Thames decided to take his own life. He deliberately stepped out in front of traffic.”

Robert Witkin led the tributes to his brother following his death and told the Herald last year that he was a ‘deeply kind man’.

“A beautiful and colourful spirit has gone from Sidmouth,” he said.

“He had the courage to be himself with anyone. Thames could make someone feel better about themselves, just because he had a lovely smile and a nice way with people.”

The theatre, music and philosophy lover – who was also a singer – was well known in the community for his eye-catching dress sense and friendly and erudite personality.