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Gloucestershire Business News

Drink-drive businessman who left pensioner for dead is jailed

A drunken pub landlord who smashed into an 82-year old woman cyclist in his car and left her dying on the roadside has been jailed for six years.

Irishman Michael Burke, who runs two Cotswold pubs, had drunk more than a litre of vodka before getting into his Chevrolet car and running into Mrs Thelma Byard while driving on the wrong side of the road.

His car windscreen was shattered by the impact with the popular pensioner, but he drove on without stopping. He claimed at Gloucester crown court (August 9) that he had no memory of the journey or the collision.

Burke, of High street, King's Stanley, nr Stonehouse, who runs the Kings Head in Kings Stanley and the Butchers Arms 11 miles away, pleaded guilty to causing Mrs Byard's death by dangerous driving on Cainscross road, Stroud, on 23rd April this year.

He was driving between his two pubs when the collision happened, the court was told.

He had drunk about 1.1 litres of vodka in the Butcher's Arms and was estimated to be 3-4 times over the drink-drive limit before making the decision to drive back to the King's Head, where he lives with his wife and two young children.

His original plan had been to spend the night in the Butcher's Arms but for some reason he could not account for decided to drive home, the defence said.

As well as the six-year jail term he was banned from driving for eight years.

Judge Michael Cullum said: "Thelma Byard was 82 and described as sprightly and popular.

"One of the things she was known for was her cycling, which she did every day. She was in good health and enjoying life.

"She cared for others, including her son, and she was a popular mother, grandmother and indeed great grandmother.

"She was cycling on her own side of the road in a high-viz jacket and helmet when she had the misfortune in the early hours of the morning to meet you.

"You were driving entirely on the wrong side of the road. The street was well lit but it appears you didn't see her.

"You didn't see her because you shouldn't have been driving - because you were not fit to drive. You were exceptionally drunk from consuming a good litre plus of vodka."

As a pub landlord Burke should have known better than anyone the risks and dangers of drink driving, said the judge.

Burke was bound to have known at the time that he had hit someone because it happened 'right in your face' yet he chose not to stop, the judge added.

"It was something which no humane person would do. You literally left Thelma Byard to die in the road.

"She didn't actually die in the road. The police and paramedics managed to prolong her life but she died some hours later. She was alive when you left her in the road.

"That is a decision you have to live with and for which, I accept, you are remorseful."

The judge said that Burke had not, however, accepted his guilt and shown remorse from the start - it had taken 10 weeks for him to acknowledge what he did and that would have added to the grief of Mrs Byard's family.

Chris Smythe, prosecuting, had told the court that at 4.50am on April 23 a policeman on patrol in Cainscross found Mrs Byard lying on the pavement close to Gannicox Lane. She was rushed to Southmead Hospital, Bristol, and died at 7.04am.

She had suffered severe windscreen impact damage to the left forehead and had a fractured skull as well as other fractures.

Vehicle parts at the scene came from a grey Chevrolet Captiva - and it was not long before police found Burke's damaged car in his pub car park, said Mr Smythe.

One hundred and 12 glass fragments from the shattered windscreen were found on Burke's shirt.

Mr Smythe said a collision investigator concluded that Burke's car crossed the centre white line and was 'driving wholly on the wrong side of the road at the moment of impact'.

Scientists calculated that Burke would have had 93mcgs and 120 mcgs of alcohol on his breath at the time of the collision. The legal limit is 35mcgs.

Mr Smythe said there was evidence from customers and staff at the Butcher's Arms that Burke sat in the pub from about 8,45pm that night drinking vodka and Coke steadily until after 12.30am. There had been two litres of vodka in the pub - it was nearly all gone when he left.

Steve Young, defending Burke, said: "He wants me to say that he is truly sorry. He shows real remorse for the grief he has caused to Mrs Byard's family."

Burke had come to the UK from Southern Ireland with his family four years ago to run pubs and on the night of the tragedy he had intended to stay at the Butcher's Arms rather than drive back to the King's Head, he said.

Burke could not remember the drive or the collision and did not know why he had changed his plans, added Mr Young.

In a statement read after the hearing Mrs Byard's family said: "Thelma was a wonderful person and was surrounded by a loving family and a wide circle of friends. She was always there for anyone and always on hand to help in whatever way she could.

"Thelma was tragically taken from us in a way that is unforgiveable. Her loss has left a huge void in our lives and altered our family dynamics.

"The way in which she was taken we will never be able to forgive or understand.

"Mum was a very loving and hard-working lady who was in good health and had many years of quality life ahead of her. Thelma was a very sociable and outgoing person who went out of her way to help others.

"She was a very active and independent lady and loved riding her bicycle. She was often seen out and about on it and many people wished they could be doing the same when they reach 82.

"Since her death the family have been made aware by many of the local community how they envied her ability and determination not to let age get in the way of what she wanted to achieve.

"She will be missed not only by her family as a mother, grandmother and Great grandmother but also by her friends and the local community.

"Her zest for life has been an inspiration to all those who had the privilege of knowing her.

"The family would like to thank all those people from the emergency services, both locally and in Bristol, who fought in vain to save her life.

"We would also like to thank our police family liaison officer and the investigation team who have been working tirelessly to gather together all the forensic evidence that has led to bringing the defendant to justice.

"While to most people Thelma's death is another statistic, to her family and friends it is a brutal reality. If someone gets into a car to drive it, you are in charge of a lethal weapon.

"As terrorists have proved, only too clearly, a motor vehicle can kill just as quickly as a loaded gun. If you don't handle it correctly you must be held responsible for your actions.

"The family now request that we be left alone to grieve and get on with living life the way Thelma would have wanted us to."

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