A FATHER of seven died after his car, being towed by an AA van, steered slightly off the road, hit a tree and skidded on its side into an oncoming vehicle, an inquest heard.
Abdulla Bakar, 48, of St James's Road, East Croydon, was behind the wheel of his black Vauxhall Zafira being towed from New Addington towards Croydon along Coombe Road on October 1, 2013 after his clutch had failed.
The inquest into his death, at Croydon Coroner's Court yesterday, heard it was "not possible" to determine why he steered his car slightly off the road and into a tree.
A witness described seeing his car "in mid-air" after it hit the tree before skidding along the opposite side of the road on its side, colliding with an oncoming Volkswagen Golf.
Selena Lynch, South London coroner, said Mr Bakar, originally from Mogadishu, Somalia, was "extremely unlucky" that his car had clipped a tree to the left of the carriageway as he was being towed.
If the car had steered off the road slightly earlier or later, it was more than likely it would have simply corrected back from the sloped verge, she said.
There was "no suggestion" the breakdown vehicle had been speeding or did anything to cause Mr Bakar's car to leave the road, she added.
The driver of the Volkswagen Golf, Shahendra Rajasekeran, described realising there was nothing she could do as Mr Bakar's car skidded on its side towards her.
"I remember everything going quiet as if it was all slow motion," he said. "I knew the car was going to hit me, it was so quick that I couldn't avoid it. I closed my eyes and felt the bang.
"My first thought was to get out of the car because I thought it might explode or something.
"My leg and chest hurt a bit but I felt okay. I heard someone say there was someone trapped in the other car."
Emergency service crews worked to free Mr Bakar and he was rushed to St George's hospital, though he died from his head injuries less than two hours after the crash, shortly before 11am.
Peter Joyce, the AA patrolman who attended to Mr Bakar, said there had been "no indication" anything was wrong before the incident.
"I heard a plastic crunch [the Vauxhall hitting the tree], I looked in my mirror and almost instantly there was a bang and I slammed the brakes on.
"Then I heard a jolt at the back of my van, which I presume was the tow bar coming off. I stopped almost instantly."
Mr Joyce added there was no indication Mr Bakar had been struggling to control his car.
"Everything was normal prior to the accident."
Mr Joyce said he had walked Mr Bakar through a step-by-step briefing, with an AA guideline sheet, on how to drive while being towed. Mr Bakar, who worked as a minicab driver, also signed a form saying he had received and understood the briefing, and told Mr Joyce he had been towed before.
Police collision experts confirmed the tow bar did not break until Mr Bakar's Zafira hit the Golf.
Collision investigator PC James McCormack said he had ruled out virtually every option for the cause of the car leaving the road other than Mr Bakar steering himself.
Asked by the coroner whether people were permitted to remain in their vehicles while being towed, PC McCormack said "you have to" with a rigid tow bar.
"The driver stays in the vehicle and is told to follow or steer in the direction of the AA van in front.
"They normally look to have the engine running, because that helps with the servo assisted brakes and power steering.
"The key in Mr Baker's car was found snapped off but in the on position. It's highly likely the engine was running while he was being towed.
There was no sign of any defects in the car before the collision, other than the clutch problem the car was being towed for, he said.
Ms Lynch ruled the cause of Mr Bakar's death as a road traffic collision.
"For reasons that are not possible to determine he turned his steering wheel slightly to the left, causing his car to hit a tree and turn on its side into an oncoming vehicle.
"In my estimation this came about either because of a momentary lapse of concentration on Mr Bakar's part or some other event, even just a bout of sneezing can cause us to lose control for a short period when driving.
"He was extremely unlucky to have lost an element of control so close to the tree."