Case Study

Lorry driver who killed 71 year-old driver gets 2 years (July 2010)

A lorry driver who may have fatally mistaken his accelerator for the brake pedal, an error that killed a nurse, has been jailed for two years.

Rose Parsons, 71, died from her injuries when the lorry driven by Colin Coveney of Sturry Way, Gillingham failed to stop at the roundabout near William Harvey Hospital, Ashford and collided with Mrs Parsons’ red Ford Fiesta and another vehicle.

Coveney, a lorry driver for 37 years, later admitted causing death by careless driving in July 2010 but went on trial at Canterbury Crown Court denying causing death by dangerous driving and was acquitted.

But Judge Adele Williams told the 64-year-old she viewed his driving as in the most serious category of careless driving, falling not far short of dangerous driving.

The jury heard Coveney’s speed as he came up the sliproad from the M20 only reduced from 52mph at the bottom to 38.5mph at the roundabout where the vehicle toppled over, crushing the red Fiesta.

Coveney in his evidence said he braked but was “getting nothing” and kept pumping the pedal to try to build up pressure. He thought his brakes had failed, but forensic evidence showed there were no faults with the brakes.

Coveney was driving a Sainsbury’s lorry delivering frozen goods to a New Romney store when he exited on the coastbound carriageway.

A tachograph expert discovered as the vehicle drove up the slip road, there were three “very short” increases in speed, each lasting quarter of a second.

“They may raise the possibility that the defendant pressed the accelerator pedal by mistake rather than the brake,” said prosecutor Anthony Prosser. But, he added, the Crown did not accept that was necessarily the explanation for what happened.

A witness saw Coveney waving his arms and sounding his horn as he approached the roundabout and the other motorist caught in the crash, Ronald Woodward, said he was suddenly aware of the lorry coming up the slip road. He escaped minor injuries but Mrs Parsons died from severe head and neck injuries.

Coveney said he tested his brakes before leaving the Aylesford depot but when he later put his foot on the pedal it went to the floor. “I was astonished, scared,” he told the jury.

He realised he was going to go into the roundabout and wanted to avoid any collision so was making a noise and waving his arms to get people out of the way. “I saw a red car in front of me, I turned to the left to avoid it but couldn’t and hit it with the front nearside of the lorry and pushed it,” he said.

After the lorry overturned, he tried climbing out of the broken window.

Coveney was banned for three years and must take an extended driving test before he drives again.

Jailing Coveney, Judge Williams said the loss to Mrs Parson’s family was incalculable and described her as a kind and extremely caring person, very much valued in her work.

Her husband had suffered great difficulties since the accident and her daughters had needed treatment for physical and emotional symptoms.

She told Coveney he had made a fundamental mistake for a professional driver, one for which there was no apparant explanation with catastrophic consequences.

CTC's view: 

One of the few cases where ‘causing death by careless driving’ has resulted in a reasonable length prison sentence – but this is a motorist, not a pedestrian or cyclist.

Once again, however, the preferred charge of ‘causing death by dangerous driving’ has fallen, this time because he was acquitted in court. In most cases prosecutors don’t even bother bringing the ‘dangerous’ charge to court.

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