A LORRY driver who ploughed into a line of traffic on the A46 near Stratford, causing life-threatening injuries to a number of people, after falling asleep at the wheel has been jailed.
Martin Gibson had pleaded guilty at Warwick Crown Court to five charges of causing serious injury by dangerous driving on the A46 northbound at Bishopton.
His Daf artic ploughed into the back of a line of three cars and a van on May 21 last year, cannoning one of the vehicles into the path of an oncoming motorcyclist who was also badly hurt.
The 54 year-old, of Bathurst Road, Gloucester, was jailed for 15 months and banned from driving for three years and one month, after which he will have to take a re-test to get a licence.
He had entered his pleas on the basis he could not recall the incident, and did not believe he was conscious at the time and must have suddenly fallen asleep at the wheel.
It was said he had been doing so when at home, and that he should therefore not have been driving.
Accepting that, prosecutor Amy Jackson pointed out: “The dashboard camera footage shows the lorry going down the road and not changing pace or direction, and you can see the reflection of his hands on the wheel not moving.”
Miss Jackson said at 8.20am there was queuing traffic on the A46 northbound approaching the Stratford park-and-ride roundabout, visible for more than 350 metres.
“Unfortunately the defendant did not see the end of the queue and, driving a large artic, went straight into the back of the queue, causing significant injury to a number of people.”
At the end of the line of traffic in his Renault Kangoo van was 52-year-old builder Andrew Hall who looked in his mirror to see the HGV bearing down.
Having left a gap behind the car in front, he tried to pull out of the lorry’s path onto the verge before there was ‘an enormous impact’ with the rear of his van – and the next thing he remembered was coming round on an ambulance stretcher.
He suffered fractured vertebrae and ribs, broken legs and arm, including his wrist and elbow, as a result of which he was unable to walk unaided for five months and is still in pain and has been unable to return to work.
“He spoke to the defendant after the last hearing. Mr Gibson apologised profusely to him and shook hands with him, and he has indicated he forgives Mr Gibson,” said Miss Jackson.
In front of him was agricultural engineer Robert Giddings and his wife Patricia in their VW Golf, which had the van shunted into it with such force that the roof ‘crinkled,’ trapping them.
Mrs Giddings was in a coma for two weeks and suffered fractures to her spine and neck, hip and pelvis, and is still unsure whether she will regain full mobility, and liver damage.
Mr Giddings also had a broken neck and spinal injury, and was transferred to Oswestry Hospital while his wife was still in University Hospital, Coventry, and has been forced to retire.
Ahead of them was Danuta Balcewicz, a retired lady who had lived in Belgium for 40 years, working for NATO, who had driven over to this country to visit friends and relatives.
She had to be cut from her car and was taken to hospital with injuries to her wrists and abdomen and a ragged wound to the side of her head which needed 50 stitches and may require plastic surgery, and she still suffers dizziness and headaches.
The impact from behind and then hitting her car sent the Giddings’ VW Golf spinning into the opposite carriageway where, in full leathers, Daniel Prince was riding his Kawasaki motorbike.
He was riding at a normal speed when the car suddenly appeared and, unable to stop, he tried to relax as he hit the Golf and was thrown from his bike, over the car and onto the road.
Mr Prince suffered a broken shoulder, wrist, elbow, hip, thigh, leg and foot, four broken vertebrae and a shattered pelvis, and still walks with a leg brace and with the aid of a stick.
Miss Jackson said another vehicle, a 4×4, was also hit and sent spinning into a hedge, but the driver, who had just dropped her son off at school, escaped with less serious injuries.
When a witness went over to the artic, which had been doing 34-54mph at the point of impact, to check on Gibson he said he did not know whether he had fallen asleep or not.
When he was interviewed he told the police he had set his cruise control after leaving the previous roundabout, and the next thing he remembered was being asked if he was OK.
But he said he had seen his GP back in 2011 because of potential sleep apnoea – and his wife had been expressing concern about him suddenly dropping off at home, added Miss Jackson.
Raj Punia, defending, said: “He must have fallen asleep, that’s the only explanation. He would like to apologise to each of them face-to-face for the consequences of his driving.”
She said Gibson had been driving since he was 17 and had held an HGV licence since 2006, and had had a clean licence.
“To say he is remorseful doesn’t reflect how truly, truly sorry he is,” she told the judge, adding that Gibson’s wife works as a carer, and their home could be at risk if he was jailed.
But Judge Richard Griffith-Jones told Gibson: “I accept you will feel conscience-stricken and remorseful for what you did.
“But what you did was drive a heavy goods vehicle, a potentially lethal vehicle, at a time when you were susceptible to falling asleep – and you knew about that and you still drove.
“As a consequence you caused devastating injuries to at least five people.
“I’d be failing in my duty if I did not articulate the determination of the courts to deter all drivers, and especially drivers of HGVs, from taking the risk for which you are culpable.
“I sentence you with a heavy heart, because you are a decent man, but offences of this sort have to receive condign punishment.”