Man charged with causing death by careless driving on the A417 at Birdlip Hill
By Court reporter | 21st September 2022
A Chinese man who was found guilty of causing the death of a 63-year-old Hampshire woman by driving carelessly on the A417 at Birdlip Hill, near Gloucester, has been sentenced to a suspended 12 month prison term.
Chun Chen, 50, a Chinese national, of Wenban Road, Worthing, claimed he saw a 'shadow' in front of him as he was driving down the hill in an Audi A4 and he swerved into oncoming traffic, colliding with two vehicles - an Audi A5 and a Toyota Rav4 in which Beverley Thomas of Botley, near Southampton, was a back seat passenger. She died from her injuries at the scene.
In July, a jury at Gloucester Crown Court spent two hours and 27 minutes deliberating before unanimously finding Chen guilty of causing death by driving without due care and attention.
Trial judge, Recorder Sarah Regan said on Tuesday (September 20): "The accident took place almost four years ago at 9.30pm on December 22, 2018, a day when David Burgess and his wife Julia and their good friends Beverley and Dr Ken Thomas spent the day together and had attended a service at Hereford Cathedral before travelling back home to the South coast.
"Mr Burgess was driving with his wife in the front seat, Dr Thomas was behind him and Beverley Thomas was behind Mrs Burgess. At the Air Balloon roundabout on the A417 near Gloucester he exited the second junction and joined the uphill section which has two lanes, with a single lane downhill, separated by solid double white lines.
"The speed limit is 60mph. Ahead of Mr Burgess' vehicle was Darius Sicinski, who was driving the Audi A5 with a Polish friend from Cheltenham as his passenger."
Recorder Regan told Chen: "You were travelling downhill at a speed in excess of 60mph, when Mr Sicinski suddenly saw a car coming at him in his lane.
"That car was you. But despite Mr Sicinski's efforts in trying to position himself into the nearside lane, you collided with his vehicle with such force that the front offside wheel from your car embedded itself into the wheel of the car driven by Mr Sicinski.
"That collision caused the two vehicles to spin, and your vehicle then collided with the Toyota driven by Mr Burgess.
"He too attempted to take avoidance manoeuvres, but it was too late and his vehicle was shunted into the crash barrier.
"Mr Burgess was able to get out of his door, but his wife had to be cut free by the fire service. He was able to open the rear door and Dr Thomas was able to get out of the vehicle.
"But Beverley was unresponsive, and her death was declared at the scene. She never regained consciousness as her death was instantaneous.
"It is important to note that in addition to causing Mrs Thomas' death you caused serious injury to her husband who suffered broken ribs and a fractured collarbone, a puncture lung and other internal injuries.
"Dr Thomas only regained consciousness five days later at Bristol Royal Infirmary, having initially been taken to Southmead Hospital. He was later transferred to Southampton General Hospital before being discharged into a nursing home.
"Mr Burgess sustained a broken ankle whilst Mrs Burgess suffered from a dislocated and broken wrist. Mr Sicinski and his passenger received minor injuries.
"I've read the victim personal statements. Dr Thomas speaks of his own injuries, but more movingly of his wife of 42 years. Her death caused his life to change, and he had to adapt to living without her and learning to walk again.
"The couple's daughter, Deborah Owens, spoke movingly, and with dignity that many of us could not manage if we were in her place. She said that accident could have happened to anyone of us. She said her mother was in the wrong place at the wrong time and she speaks candidly about the emotions over her mother's death.
"She also spoke of Beverley's zest for life. Importantly she sets out that what happened in December 2018 and the consequences of it will make people think about how they drive knowing that other people's lives in their hands.
"The Burgess' and the Thomas' lives were intertwined with each other. As well as dealing with Beverley's death Mr Burgess has to live with the fact that although the accident was not his fault, but that he was the driver when Mrs Thomas died, and he feels this position very badly.
"The reality is that it will never be clear why you drove the way you did that night. The collision has also had a profound effect on you. You sustained injuries yourself. You were found unconscious at the wheel of your vehicle and had to have your airway opened by a quick-thinking paramedic. You were admitted to hospital for injuries to your face and back, leaving you less mobile today than you were before the accident.
"I understand you've struggled emotionally about being responsible for the death of this lady. It's plain to me that your remorse is genuine.
"You have lost your job and your marriage has failed following the strain you put on your family following the aftermath of the accident.
"Everyone involved in the collision on December 22, 2018, will remain changed forever, no matter what happens in this court today.
"No sentence that I can impose could ever reflect or compensate for the loss of a wife, a mother, a sister or a grandmother."
Recorder Regan sentenced Chen to 12 months in prison but said she felt that because of the time gap of almost four years, she was able to suspend it for 18 months.
The Recorder also ordered him to carry out 130 hours of unpaid work and pay prosecution costs of £1,000.
Chen was also banned from driving for 18 months and ordered to take an extended driving test before he could obtain his full licence.
Prosecutor Michael Tanney told the jury that Chen claimed that he had a fleeting impression of a 'moving shadow' in front of him in his lane and he reacted by swerving into oncoming traffic in the middle lane.
Mr Tanney said: "He states the manoeuvre was reactive and that he was unable to do anything about it when he collided with two vehicles."
Charles Row QC, defending, stated: "Chen reacted instinctively when he saw the shadow and steered away. It wasn't something that he thought about, he just did it. This was an almost involuntary reaction which had tragic consequences.
"He may have speeding, but even if he had been driving at 60 mph, it would not have made any material difference to the tragic outcome. What he did was instinctive, a natural reaction to impending danger."
All three vehicles involved in the collision were subsequently examined by investigators and none were found to have any defect. An inquest was opened at Gloucester Coroner's Court in January 2019, which heard that Mrs Thomas' death was caused by multiple injuries.
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