THE family of a man who lost his life in a car crash has paid tribute to "one of life's great characters".
South Western Ambulance volunteer Obie Ebanks, 59, who lived in Exeter Road, Exmouth, was on his way to collect a patient to take to hospital when his Ford Focus collided with a lorry on the A30 near Honiton.
Initial investigations suggest that the father-of-two's car may have aquaplaned on water that had spilt out onto the road between Rawridge and Monkton although an investigation is on-going.
But the death of Mr Ebanks, who died instantly at the scene on Christmas Eve, has shocked his family and many friends.
His brother Kim Ebanks, who recently moved from Hele near Exeter to Cullompton where he is a town councillor, led the tributes. He said: "Obie was one of life's characters who always had a smile on his face.
"Whether he had any problems or not he always had a big grin. It may not have been how he always felt but he was a positive man.
"It is clear he had some effect on his neighbours as they came out and said how much he helped them and how much they are going to miss him.
"This has come as a great shock. No-one expects anything like this to happen.
"Our mother is 78 and lives in Heavitree. I picked her up and took her to my house after the crash. She is obviously distraught and struggling to come to terms with it.
"Obie was very close to her and the rest of the family. He had two grown up children himself."
Originally from London, Obie was a former member of the famous Repton Boxing Club. He won his first 20 fights, but his 21st was his first taste of defeat and he retired from serious competition thereafter.
After moving to Exmouth two-and-a-half years ago to be closer to his family, he joined the Exmouth Chess Club and quickly became a popular player.
He had struggled to find work but was said to have recently found "a new purpose in life" after becoming a volunteer ambulance driver in the last few weeks of his life.
Kim, 57, added: "It was a full time role for him carrying patients home from hospital and back again. He would be up at 5.30am to collect his first patient and he was in a working role at the time of the crash. I know he was due to pick a patient up at 1pm but thankfully there was no-one else in the car with him at the time.
"He expressed how carrying so many sick people around brought home how fortunate he was. He was in super health and would comment on how difficult life was for them.
"He would run, cycle and was very fit. The officers who arrived at his crash scene thought he was in his 40s. When my mother told them he was 59 they couldn't believe it."
Secretary of Exmouth Chess Club Rob Jones said he got to know Obie very well in the two-and-a-half years since he joined the club.
He added: "He was very keen on his chess and it was his main hobby since he gave up boxing. He was competitive and loved to play. He was certainly one of the keenest members we had.
"Everyone at the club was extremely saddened by what happened. It came as a great shock.
"He was really enjoying his new job working with the South Western Ambulance Service. It seemed to have given him a new purpose in life and he loved helping the elderly and disabled by taking them to and from hospitals.
"That is what he was doing on the day he died."
A spokesman for South Western Ambulance Service said: "The ambulance service has been in regular contact with Mr Ebanks' family since the incident and wishes to express its deepest sympathy for their loss."
Police are still appealing for witnesses. The road was closed for 10 hours following the collision, which happened at 11.35am. The lorry driver, a 50-year-old man from Launceston, suffered minor injuries.
A spokesman for Devon and Cornwall Police said: "The road was closed for 10 hours for police to investigate the scene and to enable the removal of the HGV, which had left the road and ended up in a steeply-sloped wooded area.
"Officers from the Serious Collisions Investigation Unit have launched an investigation and are appealing for witnesses to contact them by calling 101."
Mr Ebanks leaves two sons, Obie jr and Levy, his mother Odlin Kimpton aged 78, two sisters Lisa and Belle and two brothers Kim and Mark.
His funeral is on Thursday, January 10 at 2pm at Exeter Crematorium.