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'Day dreaming' delivery driver jailed after M-way death of 92-year-old woman
A white van driver who ploughed into the car in front of him on a motorway causing the death of a sprightly 92-year-old woman has been put behind bars.
A judge told 25-year-old Rhys Lowry that it was a "bizarre" incident, possibly caused by him day dreaming as he drove his delivery van along the middle lane of the M53.
"There seems to be no other cause for this inattention, which was not momentary" said Judge Norman Wright.
Liverpool Crown Court heard Peter Halliwell was driving his elderly aunt, Jean Murdoch, from a residential home in Ilkley, Yorkshire, to her home in Heswall in his Hyundai when Lowry crashed into them.
Mr Halliwell, who had pulled into the middle lane to overtake a slower moving vehicle, was travelling at about 60mph when he became aware of a white Ford Transit van behind driving closer and closer.
"He kept looking in his rear view mirror thinking that the van would slow down or pull out to overtake him but having looked three times he saw that the van was going to hit the rear of his car which it then did with a loud bang," said Christopher Hopkins, prosecuting.
His car was pushed onto the embankment where it hit a tree before sliding down again against the crash barrier and his aunt suffered fatal multiple injuries.
Before the vehicle left the motorway, near Willaston between junctions 4 & 5, it hit the rear of the Ford Focus in front causing it to spin around and hit the crash barrier. The driver and passenger were taken to hospital but discharged after treatment for minor injuries.
Mr Hopkins said that Mr Halliwell was able to get out of the wrecked Hyundai after the crash, which happened about 11.15am on Saturday, March 12, and witnesses, including two GPs, came to help his aunt.
She had suffered major internal injuries including complex ribcage fractures, broken spine and collapsed lungs and died shortly afterwards.
The court heard she had been an independent spirit who went out and about every day.
Lowry came over to Mr Halliwell at the scene and said: "I'm sorry, I didn't see you."
Mr Hopkins said that it had proved impossible to assess what speed Lowry had been travelling at but he had failed to react to the presence of the Hyundai or had been distracted.
Lowry, of St Peters Park, Northop, Flint, pleaded guilty to causing death by careless driving.
He was sentenced to six months' imprisonment and banned from driving for three years.
Andrew Jebb, defending, said Lowry was an inexperienced driver as he had only passed his driving test 11 months before the crash and had been working as a delivery driver for just six months.
He has a previous conviction for having no licence or insurance but was not in the habit of driving quickly, he said.
He had not reacted to the car until it was too late and was trying to pull out around it when the collision occurred. Police investigations showed that he had not been using a mobile phone or delivery computer.
The stress of the incident and court proceedings, which have been hanging over him for more than a year, have led to the breakdown of his relationship.
He still takes his responsibilities to his three-year-old son seriously and is concerned about being not seeing him while in custody.
Speaking after the hearing, Sergeant Jason Higham from Merseyside roads policing investigation unit said the case highlighted the real dangers of motorway drivers not paying attention to the road ahead.
He said: "This was an absolute tragedy and one that could have been avoided. Jean Murdoch was simply on her way home with her nephew when they happened to be on same stretch of motorway as Lowry.
"Our investigation found that Lowry had already driven far too close to another motorist just minutes earlier and was clearly unaware of just how irresponsible his driving style was.
"He had been driving at high speed with little concern for other road users and in his haste to overtake the Hyundai and Focus, shunted one into the back of the other causing them both to crash.
"Mrs Murdoch suffered fatal injuries and her nephew and the couple in the other car were lucky to escape with relatively minor injuries, although the horror of what they went through may stay with them the rest of their lives.
"Her tragic death and the prison sentence Lowry is starting today should highlight to motorists the absolute responsibility they have when at the wheel to drive safely by being aware of their speed at all times and giving themselves plenty of room from the vehicle in front so they have time to react safely if something happens.
"Drivers who don't pay attention to the road ahead of them risk causing accidents which could cost someone their life."