Lorry pair jailed for car driver's death

By Juliette MaxamA LORRY driver who crashed into a broken down car and killed a man after driving for 20 hours without any sleep began last night a four-year jail sentence for causing death by dangerous driving.

By Juliette Maxam

A LORRY driver who crashed into a broken down car and killed a man after driving for 20 hours without any sleep began last night a four-year jail sentence for causing death by dangerous driving.

His boss, who encouraged his team of drivers to work long hours, was also sent to prison for four years for the manslaughter of Lee Fitt, a 24-year-old father-of-one from Colchester.

Lorry driver Victor Coates, 57, from Felixstowe, was found guilty yesterday of causing the death of Mr Fitt by dangerous driving by a jury at Basildon Crown Court after a trial which lasted more than six months. He also admitted three tachograph offences.

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His boss, fellow lorry driver Martin Graves, 40, from Trimley St Mary, owner of MJ Graves Haulage Firm, was found guilty of Mr Fitt's manslaughter and four tachograph offences. The jury found him not guilty of one tachograph offence.

The crash happened on what Judge Philip Clegg described as a “gun-barrel straight” section of the A12 at Marks Tey just after midnight on December 13, 1999, while Mr Fitt was looking under the bonnet of his broken-down Ford Orion, while his fiancée, Sarah Norman, then 21, sat inside it.

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Coates fell asleep at the wheel of his articulated lorry while driving to Felixstowe and crashed into Mr Fitt, killing him instantly and catapulting him across the road.

Judge Clegg said Coates had left his previous lorry driving job because he wanted to earn more money.

“I've no doubt you heard you could work excessive hours and it was accepted by the boss. No doubt you took every advantage. For the two weeks prior to the accident the hours you worked were quite staggering,” he added.

“At the time of the accident you had been up for 21 hours, working for 20 hours, once again driving off chart. You had been driving off chart since 6pm.”

Judge Clegg said Coates had acted in an “incredibly callous” way after the accident by fixing in a new tachograph disc while Mr Fitt lay in the road and then blaming the victim immediately for the accident when someone asked him what happened.

The judge told Graves he had given his drivers schedules which often could not be executed without excessive hours.

“What's worse, you were leading by example, often working off chart and excessive hours. It's hardly surprising off-chart working and excessive hours became endemic in your company,” he added.

Coates, of Maidstone Road, was jailed for four years and sentenced to six months for each of the tachograph offences, to run concurrently. He was also banned for driving for six years.

Graves, of Eastland Court, was also jailed for four years and given 12 months for each of the tachograph offences to run concurrently.

Judge Clegg told the court: “There is a strong deterrent element to reflect public concern over drivers of heavy goods vehicles driving excessive hours off chart.

“It's like playing Russian roulette with the public. Drivers end up becoming dangerously fatigued. There is an appalling risk sooner or later some driver is going to fall asleep.

“Lives cannot be brought back by sentences nor can lives be measure by years.”

Speaking after the case, Mr Fitt's family said they were relieved the jury had returned guilty verdicts.

His father, Dave Fitt, of Canterbury Road, Colchester, added: “The sentence was irrelevant. It was the fact that they were found guilty and it was indicated there was no guilt on Lee's behalf.

“I'm just pleased the sentence they have got will hopefully be a deterrent to other people. Nothing will ever bring him back. The fact they were found guilty is good enough for me.”

His sister, Karen Freak, said: “We've had six months of coming to court. Now we can get back to normal routine and remember Lee as he was - just a fun-loving lad. He was easy-going and full of life and just happy-go-lucky and fun to be with.”

Judge Clegg commended three police officers involved in the case for their work: Pc Harry Sexton, of Essex Police traffic investigation unit; Pc Joy Madigan, of Chelmsford road policing unit; and Pc Nick Williamson, of Bocking road policing unit.

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