Lorry driver jailed over motorway crash which killed two men
A lorry driver has been jailed for six years after his HGV ploughed into the back of a line of traffic, killing two men, while he was sending Facebook messages to his girlfriend on his phone for at least 20 seconds prior to the crash.
Southampton Crown Court heard that 49-year-old Keith Mees had been reading or sending messages just four seconds before the accident on the M271 in Southampton on December 1 last year in which Marian Olteanu, 35, and 42-year-old Ion Calin, both from Romania, died.
Simon Jones, prosecuting, said that Mees, who did not have a hands-free kit in the cab, had just completed a phone call to his girlfriend while driving of 13 minutes and 54 seconds just two-and-a-half minutes before the accident, with another two-minute call made earlier in the trip.
He also streamed YouTube music videos on his phone during his journey.
The court heard that the phone calls involved the defendant ending a relationship with his current girlfriend to return to his previous long-term partner who he was still living with.
Sentencing him, Judge Nicholas Rowland said: "You were going through some kind of turmoil in your private life which you were sorting out while you were on the road when you should have been concentrating on the safety of other people on the road."
Mr Jones described how the Ford Mondeo, being driven by Mr Olteanu with Mr Calin, a father-of-two, as a front seat passenger, was crushed between Mees' lorry and another HGV in front which was shunted into a third lorry.
Mees, who had only recently gained his HGV licence, told a bystander when he was informed that the two men had died: "For f***'s sake, I have only had my licence for a couple of weeks."
Mr Jones said: "The sole causation of the collision pointed to the defendant being significantly distracted over the final 20 seconds before the impact took place, and as a consequence failing to respond to the fact that all of the traffic was either in the process of slowing down or stationary due to the tailback.
"The defendant failed to comprehend the situation due to the fact he chose to use his mobile phone and was reading or composing a message in those critical seconds before the crash."
The court heard that Mees, of Pringle Farm Road, Swadlincote, Derbyshire, pleaded guilty to two counts of causing death by dangerous driving and a third charge of causing serious injury to the driver of one of the other lorries by dangerous driving.
He was previously banned from driving for three years in 1998 for drink-driving.
Jason Taylor, defending, said that Mees had earlier this week attended the funeral of his ex-wife who died after being recently diagnosed with a brain tumour.
He added: "This is a man who is truly remorseful, he has high level of victim empathy and is struggling to come to terms that he has caused the deaths of those two people and caused serious injury as well."
Mees was also banned from driving for seven years, to be extended for three years.
Simona McDonald, cousin of Mr Olteanu, said that he was a "lovely, sweet, quiet man".
She said that she had been left "distressed" by a Facebook photo posted by the defendant with his thumbs up in his hospital bed following the accident, with the caption saying that the nurses "do not know they have swapped the morphine for viagra". She said: "That there was not one single word to mention the heartbreak these two poor boys' families are going through is extremely distressing for me."
Mr Olteanu's brother Ionut said: "He's a wonderful person, an amazing man, full of life, a heart of gold."
Mr Calin's widow Veronica described how she told their two sons of their father's death, saying: "I can't forget the excruciating pain I felt when my boys went to bed, my little one with such sadness in his voice said 'Does that mean Dad has died again?', when he realised he's not going to come to give him a kiss."
Mrs Calin said in a statement released through Irwin Mitchell solicitors: "Ion was a doting father and husband whose loss we are still struggling to bear.
"Our boys now have to grow up without their dad, and it is heart-breaking that this could have been so easily avoided had the driver not been using his mobile phone.
"I am relieved that this kind of thoughtlessness has resulted in a custodial sentence, and while it cannot bring Ion back to me, all I can hope for now is that his death serves as some kind of lesson to those who still persist in using mobile phones at the wheel. You are a terrible accident waiting to happen."
Mrs McDonald, 42, said: "Marian was a kind, thoughtful man, and a lovely son and brother, who brought so much happiness to our family. It is so hard for his two brothers and his parents to know that they will not share any more good times with him and will never see him marry or have children. He will be greatly missed.
"That people continue to use mobile phones while driving, being in no doubt of the destruction and devastation it can cause, is unfathomable to me.
"No phone call, text, tweet or game is ever so important that it is worth risking the lives of those around you for. Ion and Marian paid for that kind of stupidity with their lives and we have been left to pick up the pieces."
The two families are now suing Mees's insurers.
Claire Howard, an expert serious injury lawyer at Irwin Mitchell, said: "While a settlement can never make up for the unbearable loss of losing a loved one, both families have to deal with the loss on a practical level. Marian would send money back to Romania to support his parents and two brothers, and Veronica has to face the reality of single parenthood and the financial, as well as emotional impact that this will continue to have on the family."
Inspector Darren Ord, of Hampshire Police, said: "As the photographs from the scene clearly show, this was a truly horrific collision but it could have been so easily avoided if Mees had abided by the law and not used his mobile phone while driving.
"Our officers were confronted with the devastating scene which tragically resulted in the death of two friends who had simply been driving home from work.
"Through no fault of their own their lives were cut short and their families have been shattered. Mr Calin's two sons will be forced to grow up without their father.
"Had Mees simply left his phone alone, Mr Olteanu and Mr Calin would be alive today."