Leyland lorry driver who caused 'young at heart' Orrell pensioner's death in M58 crash is jailed
A lorry driver whose dangerous actions killed a 91-year-old woman and severely injured two men has been jailed for three years and four months.
Leon Stott, 35, of St Davids Road, Leyland, has admitted causing death by dangerous driving and two counts of causing serious injury by dangerous driving.
Margaret Harrison, 91, from Orrell, Wigan, died following an accident involving a Mercedes Rigid HGV driven by Stott on January 8 last year on the M58 at Skelmersdale, and van driver David Collier and Audi driver Craig Howroyd suffered serious injuries.
The accident happened in queuing traffic just minutes after an earlier tragic crash, in which 14-year-old Joe Cairns, from Radcliffe, and 50-year-old teaching assistant Ann Kerr died at the hands of HGV driver James Majury, 33, who was using apps on his phone seconds before the horrific accident.
Significant queues built up around the fatal crash before a second collision, caused by Stott, occurred shortly after 10am.
Preston Crown Court heard Stott, who entered the M58 at Orrell, was distracted while adjusting the heat, ventilation and radio controls in his Mercedes HGV while the vehicle was doing 56mph on cruise control.
He had not seen the 50mph matrix signs leading up to the scene of the earlier crash, or the standing traffic ahead, and ploughed into the stationary queuing traffic, hitting the back of Mr Collier's Ford Transit van and causing him chest and back injuries.
The van went into the back of Mrs Harrison's Ford Fiesta, causing Mrs Harrison serious head, chest and leg injuries.
Her car clipped another Fiesta and was shunted into the back of Mr Howroyd's white Audi A6, causing him a fractured skull, facial fractures and head injuries.
Evidence showed Stott hadn't braked until the point of the collision.
The court heard Mrs Harrison was trapped in her car with her head resting on the passenger seat, and she died from her injuries in hospital eight days later.
Mr Howroyd recalls little of the accident due to his head injury.
Prosecuting, Francis McEntee said: " The essence of the prosecution case is anyone approaching the scene even using a moderate degree of attention should have been aware of the standing traffic...the defendant failed to see that which was obvious.
"He must clearly have been paying little or no attention for a significant period of time. "
He remarked it was tragic that Mrs Harrison had been on her way to hospital for a routine appointment.
He added: "By the time the paramedics arrived at the scene Mrs Harrison was already being attended to and attempts were being made to extricate her from the vehicle.
"It was 10 to 15 minutes before the ambulance could arrive and several more before the fire service could extricate her."
He said a trauma surgeon catalogued a range of injuries - both her lungs were collapsed, she had an open fracture of her upper arm and shoulder, other arms fracture, five broken ribs, a lumbar vertebrae fracture, and her hip, both legs and her ankle were broken.
She had extensive surgery on January 8 and was in intensive care until 9th, but after 36 hours she started to suffer breathing difficulties.
Despite some initial encouraging signs she died on January 16 of pneumonia and associated features arising from injuries sustained in the collision
In an interview Stott told officers: " I wasn't paying enough attention, I was fiddling with the temperature gauge."
Mrs Harrison's daughter, Janet Peacock, read her family's statement in person, speaking of the "premature end to our beautiful mother's life".
She described her as an active 91 year old lady who lived independently and enjoyed travelling abroad, and said her death left a hole in their large family "of which she was the centre".
She added: " She was often delighted when people who met her thought she was a lot younger than she was, this was probably because she was young at heart."
She told the court the grandmother of six had remembered every detail of the accident, was devastated by her injuries, and had suffered "mental torment" as she tried to seek reassurance.
She added: "The physical pain she endured for over a week must have been horrendous, she was in extreme distress.
"Our final lasting memories of our mum are the heartbreaking images of her in hospital.
"We all miss her enormously."
She said relatives had travelled on the M58 afterwards and said: "We find it unbelievable someone could be so reckless and so unobservant.
"Clearly such dangerous actions show a lack of respect and blatant disregard of all the other road users on the M58 that day."
Defending, Tom Watson said he had noted everything said about Mrs Harrison and acknowledged the other victims.
He said: "
"We do not ignore or seek to sidestep the psychological impact of this incident on people who were present or are indirectly connected.
"This defendant knows that words like sorry, apology, can sound terribly hollow but he is anxious that this court and his victims should hear this on his behalf - he has no excuse, we hesitate to use the word accident when talking about this incident because it can conjure up the wrong impression.
"He is haunted by this tragic collision of his own creation. "
Judge Simon Medland QC said it was an "infinitely sad" feature of the case that Mrs Harrison has "suffered agonies" of finding out in hospital that her life was going to be cut short.
Imposing a six year ban and extended retest, he added: " In any view this case is an utter tragedy from which none have gained and from which many have lost.
"No sentence will ever restore or come close to equating to the life of Margaret Harrison or the good health of Mr Collier or Mr Howroyd.
"Mrs Harrison's death was an avoidable tragedy.
"Her death is described to me as a totally needless and horrific end to the life of a beautiful person.
"The family and friends of Mrs Harrison, Mr Collier and Mr Howroyd have the sympathy of this court."
He accepted Stott was a hard working family man who never set out to cause the tragedy.
Head of Road Policing, Ch Insp Sue Bushell said:“There are no winners in this case. Not only does Stott, who admitted what he’d done straightaway, have to live with his irresponsible actions causing the death of Margaret Harrison, there is also the lasting impact on the injured.”