The devoted daughter of a fit and healthy 70-year-old cyclist who tragically lost his life when an elderly motorist plowed into him is campaigning for a law change after it was revealed in court the “reckless” driver could only see three meters ahead.
Emma Damen’s beloved father, Jim Tassell, a retired accountant, suffered a fatal head injury after he was catapulted off his bicycle on a country lane in his hometown of Andover, Hampshire, on July 23 last year, when 82-year-old Peter Gardner’s car collided into the back of him.
Despite the tragic event which cut the grandfather-of-two’s life short, Jim was able to fulfill his wishes of becoming an organ donor – and has already saved two lives.
Now, in memory of her “heroic” father, bank team manager Emma, 41, is running 10 miles next month to raise funds for the Air Ambulance Service who did everything they could to save her father – who leaves behind his loving wife, retired school assistant, Stephanie Tassell, 69.
Emma, who lives in Andover with her husband, 50-year-old operations manager Glenn Damen, and their children, Noah, 15, and Katie, 12, is also pushing for eyesight tests for those who are over 70 and seeking to renew their driving license.
“What happened should never, ever have happened,” she said.
“Dad paid the ultimate price of his life because of someone else’s selfish decision and actions.
“Running next month will be very emotional but I just want to make dad proud.
“But if I can raise money to help other families, and help save other lives, so they don’t have to go through what we’ve gone through, then that is all I could want.”
On the morning of July 23, Jim had gone on one of his regular bike rides along the B3400, between Whitchurch and Andover.
Emma said: “My dad was incredibly fit and healthy.
“He would go jogging three times a week or go on 20-mile bike rides in the nicer weather.
“He was always out with my children, his grandchildren, taking them to the park or cycling or playing football.”
It was around 10am when Jim’s bike ride came to a dramatic end, after Gardner slammed into his back.
While paramedics were not able to save Jim, their efforts were vital, Emma said.
“The emergency services got to dad within three minutes after the crash, which is phenomenal,” she said.
They were so quick to get an air ambulance there and give my dad every possible chance to survive.
“If they hadn’t got to dad so quickly, he would have died on the roadside and never been able to donate his organs.”
Taken to Southampton General Hospital, Emma, her mum, Stephanie, and their brother, Ben Tassell, 39, a head teacher, visited Jim, who was in intensive care in an induced coma.
Emma said: “Seeing him like that will haunt me forever.”
She added: “He had suffered a broken leg and shoulder, two broken ribs, a punctured lung and multiple bleeds on the brain, despite wearing a helmet.”
Despite the medics’ efforts, the severity of Jim’s brain damage became devastatingly clear, and on July 28, his life support was turned off.
“It was horrendous,” said Emma.
“We live just 15 minutes away from my parents and used to see each other all the time.
“Dad was the central pillar of our family and to go from seeing him all the time to having him taken away from us in the click of a finger was horrifying.”
The effect on the family – especially Emma’s mum – has been devastating.
She said: “My father was loved by so many people.
He was always such a true gentleman, and so nice and gentle.
“No words can describe the devastation his loss has caused.”
Earlier this month, Gardner, of Whitchurch, Hampshire, was jailed for six months for causing death by careless driving in Salisbury Crown Court, after the court heard he could “only read a registration plate at three meters away” – as opposed to the required 20 meters.
Passing the sentence, Judge Andrew Barnett said: “It seems to me that your recklessness and foolishness are quite obvious when you weren’t seeing properly.”
Emma said: “Angry doesn’t even describe how I feel.
“If you know your eyesight is that poor, how can you be so arrogant and selfish to just get in the car anyway?”
“Without a doubt, my dad would have lived well into his 90s, if it wasn’t for his selfish decision to get in that car.”
Despite the family’s grief, they have taken comfort in the legacy Jim has left behind.
She said: “So far, dad’s kidneys have helped save the lives of two people.
His liver has been donated to science and we are waiting to hear where his corneas and heart valves will be used.
“Dad always had a donor card so we knew exactly what he wanted to do.
“It means so much to us that even in death, he was still giving and looking out for others.
“He is a hero to me. I feel so proud knowing that people’s lives have been changed because of my dad.”
In October, Emma is preparing to run 10 miles for the Great South Run in Portsmouth – a race her dad completed eight times – in aid of the air ambulance service who did their best to save her dad.
She said: “It will be very emotional because the last time I ran this race was with my dad in 2014.
“I swore then I would never do it again at the time because it was so hard, but I want to make him proud and make a difference.”
Emma is also pushing for a change in the law.
“All I am asking is that when you get to 70 and renew your license, you should have an eyesight test,” she said.
There needs to also be an onus on doctors and opticians to inform the DVLA (Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency) when someone’s health or eyesight deteriorates to the point that they are not fit to decide.
“My father’s death should never have happened and more people will die if we do not see change.
“How many more people have to die before the government will say ‘enough is enough’ and put a new law in place?”
Becky Guy, the Road Safety Manager for England said: “There’s no set age to retire from driving.
“We all age differently and as long as we’re fit and safe, there’s nothing to stop us from continuing to drive at any stage in life.”
She added: “But, there may come a time when you need to retire from driving, for your own sake and those around you.
“This is a very difficult decision, but it does not mean that you have to give up your independence and freedom.”
To support Emma’s fundraiser, visit: www.justgiving.com/team/teamdamentassell