Train crash driver escapes prison term

A FORMER soldier who derailed a freight train with his car has avoided being sent to prison.

Ipswich Crown Court heard yesterday that Jason Whitehead, 37, who has a long list of previous motoring convictions, has dramatically changed his attitude following the death of his teenage daughter.

Last week Whitehead buried his daughter who had been killed when she was struck by a stolen car and now wanted to address his drink and drug problems.

He was sentenced to eight months imprisonment, suspended for two years and ordered to complete 200 hours of unpaid community work.

Whitehead, of Alexandra Road, Colchester and formerly of King’s Way, Ipswich, had lost control of a Vauxhall Vectra car at an estimated 80mph at the junction of Lindbergh Road and Cobham Road, Ipswich, on October 12 last year.

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Witnesses had told of the car crashing through a fence and becoming airborne before striking the side of a 22-wagon Freightliner train from the Port of Felixstowe which was passing at 50mph.

Prosecutor Richard Potts said one wagon was derailed and the train came to a halt near Derby Road station because the impact had fractured a brake pipe.

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The derailed wagon was not carrying any hazardous cargo but the one next to it was loaded with a refrigeration gas which could have posed the risk of asphyxiation for people nearby if it had been punctured.

Mr Potts said that a passer-by who went to help had found the Vauxhall car in bushes beside the tracks and had been surprised to see Whitehead getting out the badly damaged vehicle apparently unscathed.

Whitehead had walked off after telling the man “I’m just dazed” but was detained later by police. He denied having been at the wheel and named another man from London who he said had been driving.

That claim led police officers on a fruitless search for the man, said Mr Potts, which only ended when Whitehead changed his not guilty plea to one of guilty in the same week that his trial had been due to begin.

Following his arrest a blood sample from Whitehead was tested because he appeared to be under the influence and was found to contain a mixture of prescription drugs, morphine and codine, the court heard.

Mr Potts told the court: “This incident resulted in about �14,000 damage to the Freightliner train and a further �60,000 cost to Network Rail.”

Whitehead had pleaded guilty to dangerous driving, driving with no insurance and driving with no valid licence.

Mitigating, Richard Wood said: “I have to concede in Mr Whitehead’s case it is a sorry catalogue of aggravating features.”

Although Whitehead had a long history of court appearances and prison sentences, nothing had been done during that time to help rehabilitate him by tackling his drink and drug issues. Mr Wood said that while Whitehead deserved immediate custody, he was now motivated to change and his attitude to offending had changed markedly since the death of his daughter. He had already started to attend two support groups.

Sentencing Whitehead, Mr Recorder Ian Fletcher said it was very fortunate that it was a freight train and that no-one had been injured.

In addition to the suspended prison sentence, Whitehead was told he must take part in a substance abuse programme and was made subject of a 12 month Drug Rehabilitation Order with monthly court appearances to check on his progress.

He was disqualified from driving for two years and told that to obtain a licence again he will have to take an extended driving test.

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