Cocaine blamed for rabbi's crash death

A wealthy philanthropist dubbed "God's postman" was killed when he crashed his Bentley after taking cocaine, an inquest heard.

Rabbi Benzion Dunner, who gave millions to charity, may have been under the influence of the class A drug as he drove his two sons in his £175,000 car.

The 45-year-old lost control of the Bentley Arnage as he overtook another vehicle at 80mph, careered off the road and ploughed into a tree.

He died instantly from severe chest injuries. Toxicology tests later revealed he had ingested a quantity of cocaine some time before the crash which could have affected his driving.

The hearing heard that two days before the fatal crash, Mr Dunner had celebrated Purim when he gave away £2 million to the poor.

His father, Councillor Aba Dunner, said that his son had been singing and dancing as he spent the night handing out cash to the needy.

The inquest was told that on March 22 he had been to synagogue twice before he left his family home in Golders Green, north London, for their holiday home in Bournemouth.

Mr Dunner, a father of nine, had been driving sons Chaim, 22, Boruch, 10, and family friend Ginette Silber.
His wife Esther was driving with other members of the family in a car ahead of them.

The crash happened when the rabbi overtook a Toyota Celica on the A338 into Bournemouth but clipped its front off-side, sending the Bentley out of control.

PC Charlotte Wales, of Dorset Police, said: "The Bentley made contact with the front off-side corner of the Toyota. It was a glancing collision but would have increased the rotation of the Bentley.

"The evidence suggests the driver of the Bentley over-steered but did not make an attempt to correct it or apply the brakes."

Chaim Dunner told the inquest it had been an uneventful journey to Bournemouth, during which the family had listened to Chasidic music on the CD player.

He recalled that at the time of the crash: "I was looking at my lap, most likely at my mobile, and I looked up and we swerved to the right, then left, then right and left again. I would say he was driving at about 75 to 80mph but he was fine. When we swerved, he was just driving away from the other car and he was trying to get back in control and then he went straight off."

Dr Peter Sharp, a toxicologist, found traces of cocaine in Rabbi Dunner's blood and urine. He said the rabbi had taken cocaine, but not an excessive amount, and believed he had taken it in the days leading up to his death.

Dr Sharp said studies in the US had shown that the effects of taking the drug before driving can lead to speeding, loss of control, causing collisions and high risk, inattentive driving.

When Bournemouth coroner, Mr Sheriff Payne, asked him if the cocaine would have affected Mr Dunner's driving he replied: "Sure, yes."

The policewoman present at the crash, PC Wales, said she could find no obvious reason why Rabbi Dunner lost control.

She said: "He had steered to the near-side but the reason for that I haven't been able to establish. I don't think it was a case of misjudging things.

"There must be another reason; he fell asleep or collapsed at the wheel or was distracted."

In recording a verdict of accidental death, Mr Payne said the cocaine had been a factor in the crash.

He told the Bournemouth inquest: "The post-mortem would seem to indicate no difference in his heart from that of any other person.

"We have to consider another factor. It came to light that he had cocaine in his system and one of the effects is that you become reckless and you do not perceive matters properly.

"I have to conclude that it must be a contributory factor in what happened."

    Last updated: 10:48am, August 7 2008

    COMMENTS

    saraj

    Thu, 08/07/2008 - 14:14

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    amazing, I have read so many different articles in all different newspapers and the accompying comments, and no surprises the comments with the jewish chronicle are the most anti religious,and anti jewish, i find it incredable that people who are not religious think they know so much about the religious people, and feel they have to right to critizise and put down the true torah way of life, the way of life that will keep judiasm going forever.  Why does the Jewish Chronicle feel the need to vent all its guilt feelings on not living life the torah way and be so 'anti' frum Taking Cocaine is a terrible thing, but put that in to context, how many non religious people take cocaine on a regular basis?? not just very rare, Benzy had so much stress in his life, and did so much good, why ignore all of that? the frum world knows there is a problem with drugs, we know that what affect the secular world affect the religious world, but what people like the self hating jews of the JC dont realise is, that the reason it is so shocking to everyone to read something like this, is that Thank G-d the problem is still so tiny compared to the outside world, i dont think the secular world can compare the scale of the problem.  As jews do you not feel any responsibilty to 'live and let live' and respect people no matter how they live?? only the JC prints anti frum articles week after week, none of the religious newspapers feel the need to put down, and degrade people who are not religous, rather they write about good things, things which make a person proud, the good deeds a person does, like Benzy dunner and the happiness not the constant critizim of others.  Have some respect for Benzy's family, Im sure his wife and children are going through enough without you people just adding to their grief.  I would like to see any other cocaine users doing as much good and kindness as Benzy did, as i say i am not excusing him taking the drug its a terrible thing to do, but look at both sides, and stop using this to bash the frum.

    DrSFreilich

    Fri, 08/08/2008 - 10:15

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    I was very saddened and disheartened to read the earlier blog comments which were highly inflammatory towards the Dunner family and the Charedi Community. The fact that the toxicologist only found traces of the coccaine in his blood and urine and none was mentioned to be found in his hair would indicate that he only had a one off exposure and was not a habitual 'druggie' as has been sensationalised in the press. This is because coccaine is deposited in the hair and lasts for a prolonged period of time there, whilst it is quickly excreted from the bodily fluids. It is entirely plausable that someone may have offered him a cigarette that contained some of this substance, without his knowledge, in the hope of bringing him some festive cheer or even conceivably to enhance a possible Purim donation. Who knows? In these days of mourning for our Temple which was said to have been destroyed for a lack of fraternal respect and friendship, we should be especially careful to judge others favourably, particularly a man who was so particular to help and be kind to others. Kind Regards, Dr Simon Freilich.

    lacey2008

    Mon, 12/29/2008 - 18:32

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    How do they know that the cocaine was taken that day? The Rabi might have been going through an addiction recovery which he had taken it three days prior since it stays in your system that long. His levels of the substance were low. I just don't understand how that could cause an accident if they don't even know when this happened. Maybe someone slipped him some cocaine. You never know.