Martin Carroll, 67, was driving his wife Jean, 76, from their home in Tadcaster to a spa hotel in the Lake District when he initiated an 'extraordinary sequence of driving' as they headed towards Knaresborough on the morning of November 11, 2019, an inquest into the couple's deaths heard today.
With no known provocation, Mr Carroll twice rammed his Mercedes estate into the back of a car driven by an accountant doing the school run with his wife and two children. He then left his lane and overtook several more vehicles at high speed on the wrong side of the road, giving no indication he intended to slow down or pull back in before he collided almost head-on with a Scania lorry doing hospital deliveries that was travelling in the opposite direction. The couple, who met working for the Civil Service in Bradford, were killed instantly.
The inquest at County Hall in Northallerton included evidence from Mrs Carroll's daughter from a previous marriage, Lynne Garnett, who said her stepfather had poor relationships with his wife's family, was 'controlling' towards her and was known to drive aggressively.
The last time she saw her mother, Miss Garnett, who lives in the south-west, met up with her in Otley without Mr Carroll present, but he then collected his wife and refused to speak to Miss Garnett or her children.
Mr Carroll, who was born in Doncaster, had no children of his own or surviving relatives. Miss Garnett said that she decided to move overseas as a young woman because she wanted to get away from her stepfather's 'controlling ways'.
"I wanted Mum to be happy, and she seemed content in her new life with its rigid structure. In recent years, when I visited them in Tadcaster I would take my daughter, but she struggled with Martin and he didn't like her. He would often sulk like a petulant child, and spend the entire evening alone in his room on his laptop. I believe he did this when they were alone in the house too. His hobbies included technical drawing and warships and were not inclusive of her.
"When we saw her in Otley before they died, Martin came to pick her up but would not engage in conversation with us, which was not unusual. I was planning to visit them in Tadcaster in November and there was a hint of trepidation for me as that meant dealing with him.
"Mum never drove. The last time I was in a car with Martin was in 2018. He had an imperious and superior manner, and a dismissive attitude to other drivers. He was aggressive, impatient, over-confident and easily wound up.
"The marriage was volatile - even something like making toast was a structured event for Martin, and they would often come to verbal blows. I am not aware if they came to physical blows."
The Carrolls' neighbour Helen Whiley saw them leave their house at 8am on the morning of their deaths, and remarked on Mr Carroll's unusual appearance, as he was not dressed as smartly as normal, as well as the earliness of their departure.
Several drivers who were travelling in the same direction as the Carrolls on the stretch of the A59 between Flaxby and Goldsborough gave evidence to the inquest, with all agreeing that he had 'floored it' after overtaking their cars and seemed to be deliberately driving with the intention of causing a collision.
Recruitment consultant Rachel Silverwood was behind their Mercedes and observed Mr Carroll veering across the carriageway before he accelerated towards the car in front driven by Matthew Davies, whom he then struck a second time, causing debris to detach from the car. She commented that Jean Carroll appeared to be calm and did not make any hand gestures towards her husband or attempt to grab the wheel.
"I thought it was road rage, and he didn't get out or pull over. I was worried. Suddenly, the Mercedes pulled back out and floored it. He was in the centre of the opposite lane, which was empty at that moment. He went past about five cars before the lorry appeared. He made no attempt to avoid it. The lorry tried to move over, but it looked as if he tried to adjust his course again to hit the lorry at maximum speed. Their car was obliterated. He made no attempt to turn back into our lane.
"Jean seemed so calm and I can never understand how she could just sit there. It was very shocking."
Mr Davies could see Mrs Carroll in his rear view mirror and agreed that although she was conversing with her husband, she did not seem animated. He said his Peugeot 308 was struck from behind with 'quite a bit of force', and although his family were unhurt his two children, aged eight and five, were 'hysterical'.
"He hit us twice, then his car pulled out and he accelerated rapidly. He put his foot down hard and was straight down the other carriageway. He didn't pull in when he saw the lorry, there was no intent to slow down or squeeze back in. He didn't try to avoid the collision."
Another driver, Martin Cleary, said he noticed the Mercedes' passenger side bumper was hanging off as it passed him going up to 80mph. He said he did not see its brake lights come on and that he believed there was space for it to pull back in had the driver wished to do so.
While a driver further ahead, Sadie Arrowsmith, said she deliberately slowed down so that Mr Carroll would have room to pull back in in front of her, adding; "I would have taken that gap at that point, if I had been him. The car was swerving and pulling back into the centre of the lane as if aiming to hit something. It was picking up speed and continuing to accelerate."
The HGV driver, Adrian Howse, who was not hurt in the collision, gave evidence in which he said he had tried to move towards the centre of his lane to try and give the Mercedes space to pass him on his left side.
"It kept coming towards me - it was veering, and making no attempt to get back in. He didn't brake or pull up."
Forensic collision investigator TC Paul Harris from North Yorkshire Police confirmed that there was a gap of around 30 metres between the car nearest to the site of impact and one travelling ahead of the collision, and that 'gouge marks' on the lorry indicated that Mr Carroll had tried to swerve to his left at the last second to return to his lane.
"The Mercedes seems to have cut across the Scania at a 30-degree angle.
"I would describe Mr Carroll's movements in the lead-up to the collision as aggressive and impatient. He chose to accelerate away and reached unknown speeds. He could have aborted the overtaking manoeuvre as there was time and distance to do so, but he contrived to accelerate. I think this was a probable attempt to get back into an apparent gap - the angle suggests he planned on returning to the other lane. It has been suggested by witnesses that this was a deliberate act, but it was more likely the action of an aggressive driver whose judgement was flawed. There were no drugs or alcohol in his system or any medical conditions that I know of.
"Had it been a deliberate act, he would have struck the HGV in a more direct manner and the front end would have been crushed beneath the cab. As it was, the nearside of the car was still intact. It was ill judged and belligerent. He expected other drivers to make way for him, and alter their own driving rather than taking evasive action himself.
"He was in an angry state of mind and persevered with his decision - it was a huge misjudgement, but I do not believe it was deliberate and he seemed to be correcting himself at the last available moment."
Recording a verdict of death in a road traffic collision for both Mr and Mrs Carroll, assistant coroner for North Yorkshire John Broadbridge said that although it seemed 'wholly inappropriate' to describe the incident as accidental, there was not enough evidence to suggest Mr Carroll had intended to end his own life or that of his wife.
"There is no evidence that he wished to die, although suicide can be impulsive he must have realised that he would have killed his wife also. I can see why the witnesses take the view that it was a deliberate act, but I have to take into account the balance between moments judged by witnesses against the forensic evidence, and that is where the notion of harm falls down. He was veering to the left at the moment of impact, perhaps to regain the correct lane, so I reject the possibility of suicide."