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Lorry driver cleared of dangerous driving charge
A JURY has cleared a lorry driver of causing death by dangerous driving after he ploughed into the back of a broken-down car in his 44-tonne truck.
Christopher Lewis was today found guilty of the lesser charge of causing death by careless driving following a trial at Teesside Crown Court.
The 43-year-old's Scania heavy goods vehicle smashed into a stricken Nissan Almera on the A1(M) in North Yorkshire and killed its stranded driver.
Gordon Blair, 50, from Sunderland, was standing at the rear of his hatchback on the inside lane of the motorway after it broke down on a journey south.
Lewis, of Chantry Road, Northallerton, North Yorkshire, denied both charges and claimed he was suffering a sneezing fit at the time of the accident.
He told the jury that he did not see the stationary Almera until he was right upon it, and braked just half-a-second before the devastating collision.
Judge Peter Bowers ordered Lewis to carry out 250 hours of unpaid community work, and banned him from the roads for the next 12 months.
He told the jury that he felt sorry for the trucker because the mandatory driving disqualification means he will lose his job and risks losing his home.
Judge Bowers described the crash as “exceptional” and said: “These are always tragic cases and they get no easier for me as the years pass on the bench.
“What led to Mr Blair being on the carriageway will remain a mystery, I think. The sadness is he didn't do what the Highway Code recommends.”
The judge told Lewis: “I think your only fault was to fail to reduce your speed or take off the cruise control once you started the sneezing fit.
“That would have given you some control over the speed of the vehicle and the ability to manoeuvre better once your vision became clear.
“I am satisfied you will bear the memory of this for the rest of your life. You have an unblemished driving record.
“You are probably one of the most exceptional drivers these courts have seen, and deserve the high praise Mr Campbell has given you.”
His barrister, Andrew Campbell, QC, said Lewis had driven more than two million miles without as much as a speeding fine in a 21-year career.
“This conviction means he will lose his excellent driving record and his very positive good character and there are other serious consequences for him.
“That is not to detract at all from he horrors the jury found his lack of care caused the deceased,” Mr Campbell told the court.
The accident happened as psychiatric nurse Mr Blair travelled to West Yorkshire to visit his parents on the morning of December 28 last year.
A number of other drivers – some in lorries – told the court they took evasive action and either overtook the car or passed it on the hard-shoulder inside.
Lewis was said to have had 300 metres – or 14 seconds – to see the Nissan as he approached the scene near the A59 turn-off for Harrogate.
Work colleagues told the court that Mr Blair had been acting “extremely oddly and erratically” on his night shift before the accident.
Mr Campbell said: “This was a vehicle which was almost inevitably going to be run into by someone.”