Amy Purvis inquest: mother-of-two was killed by drink driver as she drove back from choir rehearsal

“This terrible tragedy should serve as a warning to others of the utterly devastating consequences of drinking and driving”

A mother-of-two died when she was hit by a drink driver as she was on her way back from a choir rehearsal, an inquest heard.

Amy Purvis, 36, was driving back to her home in Richmond in North Yorkshire after leading a singing session in Barnard Castle on the night of 14 December 2021 when the Nissan X-Trail driven by 58-year-old Charles William Wheatley drifted into her lane on the A66 between Rokeby and Greta Bridge.

The professional voice coach and choir leader was taken to hospital but passed away two days later and her organs were donated to others.

Mr Wheatley, who also died in the collision, was attempting to turn right into the farm where he was living, when he struck Miss Purvis head-on.

He was later found to have never held a valid licence due to suffering from epilepsy since 1993, which made him unfit to drive because of regular seizures.

Amy Purvis

Footage showed Mr Wheatly drinking two pints

CCTV footage from the Rokeby Inn public house captured Mr Wheatley drinking two pints of beer before leaving at around 10pm and heading west along the A66. Miss Purvis was driving eastbound.

A postmortem also found that Mr Wheatley had not been taking the epilepsy medication required to keep his condition under control and he had falsely told his GP that he did not drive.

Miss Purvis was conscious immediately after the collision and spoke to drivers who had stopped to help, but her condition deteriorated during a prolonged extraction from the Toyota Yaris borrowed from her mother. She had suffered damage to an artery in her skull which eventually prevented blood reaching her brain and was described as an “unsurvivable” injury by doctors.

She was unconscious by the time she arrived at James Cook University Hospital, where she was also found to have suffered severe leg injuries, and never awoke.

Mr Wheatley passed away at the scene soon after the crash from abdominal injuries. He had not been wearing a seat belt.

Witnesses described seeing his X-Trail cross the central reservation in a gradual motion 'for no reason' before striking Miss Purvis' Yaris and causing a 'fireball'. Miss Purvis' car ended up on its side.

Mr Wheatley had a blood alcohol reading of 203mg per 100ml, more than twice the legal limit of 80mg. Miss Purvis had no drugs or alcohol in her system.

A police reconstruction by Durham Constabulary concluded that he had either “misjudged the speed and distance” between the two cars or failed to see the Yaris.

The inquest was attended by Miss Purvis' partner Steven Richardson, parents Owen and Sheila Purvis and sisters Beth Purvis and Katie Chappell. Beth Purvis has since taken over a choir that Amy ran and continued her sister's legacy.

Recording a conclusion of death in a road traffic collision, senior coroner for Durham and Darlington Dr Leslie Hamilton said: "I cannot record a verdict of unlawful killing because the car was not used deliberately to harm. I also cannot indicate any criminal liability because the law does not allow me to. Charles Wheatley should not have been driving a vehicle."

‘We continue to miss Amy every day’

Miss Purvis worked as a teaching assistant at Carmel College in Darlington and was a leader and founder of Euphoria and Youthphoria choirs, based in Barnard Castle, and also involved with Deerbolt Ladies Choir in Teesdale.

In a statement, her family said: “We continue to miss Amy every day but hope that her unnecessary death will act as a deterrent to anyone who thinks that driving under the influence of alcohol is ever acceptable.

“We'd again like to thank everyone involved in Amy's care following the collision which took her life in December last year, including Durham Constabulary who have been a great support to us since then, the emergency services, and the staff of James Cook University Hospital in Middlesbrough.

“We would also like to thank the members of the public who were first on the scene who made sure that Amy knew she was not alone. Your kindness has given us much comfort and we are very grateful.”

Inspector Mick Todd, from Durham Constabulary, said: “This was a truly tragic incident, and our thoughts remain with the family and friends of all involved at this difficult time.

“This terrible tragedy should serve as a warning to others of the utterly devastating consequences of drinking and driving. It can take lives and shatter families - please, don’t do it.”