Masterton man 'sleep-driving'

By Staff reporter, editorial@age.co.nz

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Masterton man blames crash on 'sleep-driving'

DENYING CHARGES: Darryl Cox leaving Masterton District Court on Thursday. PHOTO/ANDREW BONALLACK
DENYING CHARGES: Darryl Cox leaving Masterton District Court on Thursday. PHOTO/ANDREW BONALLACK

A Masterton man says he was "sleep-driving" when he ploughed through a Roberts Rd property in his car.

Darryl Donald James Cox, 34, has pleaded not guilty to driving with excess blood alcohol and driving while holding a revoked license.

In Masterton District Court on Thursday, defence lawyer Ian Hard said his client was "very adamant" he was asleep and it was a case of sleep-driving. "He mentions it was sleeping pills that put him in that state."

Mr Hard said there were also "a number of other things he's done while in this state".

It is alleged that on November 15 last year, in the early hours of the morning, Cox was driving down French St and missed the corner, smashing through the wooden fence of Roberts Rd resident Vicki Thompson's property, destroying a goldfish pond and ripping up the lawn and gardens.

Damage included a smashed front fence, a drained fish pond and 40 dead goldfish, a damaged corner of the home and torn rose bushes, and box hedges that were pulled from the ground.

Glass and debris had been strewn across the front yard including the front bumper of the car. Emergency services found Cox unconscious and cut him out of the Subaru Legacy.

He was taken to Masterton Hospital, where he later discharged himself.

Cox's case will be transferred to Wellington District Court, where he has elected to undergo trial by jury. Judge Bruce Davidson remanded him on bail to appear in court again on June 24.

Sleep experts say severe sleepwalkers and people who take sleeping pills can end up sleep-driving and doing other activities automatically.

Last year, a woman travelled more than 300km in five hours from Hamilton to Mount Maunganui, texting along the way. She had taken sleeping pills and had no recollection of her night-time journey.

Sleep Well Clinic director Dr Alex Bartle said there was evidence to suggest some types of sleeping pills could lead to strange, automatic behaviour.

"In automatic behaviour, people can drive but they usually wouldn't go very far."

He said the woman's incident was most likely a case of micro-sleeping - a very short episode of sleep usually caused by extreme fatigue.

"Doing that sort of distance, she would most likely be awake, just not thinking straight, and definitely micro-sleeping."

Dr Tony Fernando, Auckland University, said he was aware of several sleep-driving incidents and compared the driver's state of mind to "an elevator being stuck between two floors". He said parts of the brain requiring a higher level of thinking can remain asleep, preventing them from discussing things such as philosophy, while lower brain centres are active and can still allow a person to navigate.

- Wairarapa Times-Age

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