Former USAF colonel, 84, banned and fined for causing death of woman, 82
- Credit: Archant
An 84-year-old retired USAF colonel killed an 82-year-old pedestrian in Woodbridge after mistakenly putting his foot on the accelerator instead of the brake of his automatic car, a court has heard.
Great-grandmother Joy Poppy was walking along New Street with her husband and daughter-in-law at around 2pm on July 1 last year when a Ford Fusion driven by John Mahon mounted the pavement and struck Mrs Poppy, who later died in hospital from her injuries.
Shortly before the collision witnesses heard the sound of “sudden revving” and saw Mahon’s car accelerate, said Jamie Sawyer, prosecuting.
Immediately after the collision Mahon, whose terminally ill wife – who has since died – was in the passenger seat, admitted he had mistakenly put his foot on the accelerator instead of the brake causing the car to “shoot forward.”
The USAF chaplain, who was on the way to pick up his wife’s medication, told police he was “devastated and horrified” by what had happened and said he was at a “complete loss” as to why it had occurred.
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Mahon, of St Audry’s Park, Melton admitted causing Mrs Poppy’s death by careless driving and was given a 12 month community order during which he will have to do 100 hours unpaid work in the community.
He also admitted causing Mrs Poppy’s death while driving otherwise than in accordance with his licence.
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The court heard that Mahon had driven in this country on an international licence when he was with the USAF but had not applied for a UK licence when he retired.
In addition to the community order Mahon was banned from driving for 12 months and ordered to pay £1,200 costs.
Sentencing Mahon, Judge Rupert Overbury said: “Momentary inattention on your part caused you to press the accelerator pedal instead of the brake in your automatic car. Because of the distractions in your personal life at the time and no doubt your age, you acted too late to rectify the tragic course of events that happened within seconds of your error.”
He told members of Mrs Poppy’s family who were in court that nothing he could say or do would bring back the “much loved wife, mother, grandmother and great-grandmother,” who lived in Leiston.
He explained that judges weren’t free to pass any sentence they wanted and if the family felt the sentence was “paltry” he wanted them to understand he was restricted by Parliament and sentencing guidelines.
Judge Overbury said Mrs Poppy’s death had arisen from an error of judgement by Mahon and was in the lowest category for this type of case.
“Mrs Poppy wouldn’t have anticipated in any way that as a pedestrian she was in harm’s way. You bear sole responsibility for what occurred,” the judge told Mahon.
Speaking after yesterday’s hearing PC Paul Fletcher described the case as “very sad and tragic”.
He said Mrs Poppy’s family had lost “a wonderful lady” who had inspired all her family.
“As the judge said, what happened was the responsibility of the defendant and his age and what was going on in his personal life affected his ability to be safe on the road.
“We say that all drivers have total responsibility when they are on the road and as we reach our latter years that responsibility increases due to our health and ability to think under pressure and stress,” he added.
Tim Brown for Mahon described the case as “appallingly tragic” and said: “My client asks to express his extreme remorse and desperate wish that these events hadn’t happened.”
He said Mahon was a decent man who would have to live with the consequences of what happened for the rest of his life. “He has Mrs Poppy’s family in his thoughts and prayers every day,” said Mr Brown.
He said Mahon was a decorated retired colonel and padre who had spent his entire career in the service of others.
He said Mahon’s wife had since died and he had health problems, including diabetes.
Mr Brown told the court that Mahon had voluntarily given up his driving licence.
Paying tribute to the great-grandmother, following her death, her family said she was a vibrant and much-loved woman.
They recalled how she had got a tattoo for her 80th birthday and was “really pleased” with the result, before going on to have three more.
The family said: “That was Joy – full of life, big-hearted, generous, mischievous, humbling, proud, vivacious and always game for a laugh.
“With four children, 10 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren, Joy certainly wasn’t the regular OAP and never ceased to surprise her husband George, even after 35 years together.
“With her life-long friend Greta there were regular trips to Lowestoft on the bus and little shopping trips with George or family members. She loved to get out and about, seeking out new places to visit, shop and eat.”