Tragedy truck driver ‘haunted’ by his mistake – court

A COURT has heard a heartbreaking statement from a north Cumbrian woman whose husband died as the result of a lorry driver’s careless driving.

Wetheral man Mike Seminara, 71, was a much-loved husband, father and grandfather, the city’s crown court heard.

What had begun as a pleasant day out with his friends cycling ended tragically when he was struck by a lorry trailer on a roundabout of the A689 bypass north of Carlisle[1].

In court yesterday, lorry driver Neil Gass, 48, was given a suspended jail term after he admitted causing the pensioner’s death by careless driving.

The tragedy happened on March 29, 2018. Gass was originally charged with causing death by dangerous driving. A jury cleared him of that charge, though Gass always admitted his driving that day was careless.

But as a result of legal “errors,” the court heard, his initial admission of carelessness did not amount to a conviction and this delayed the resolution of the case by several months.

Gass, of Prior Avenue, Canonbie, later formally admitted causing Mr Seminara’s death by careless driving.

The trial had heard that Mr Seminara – a keen and experienced cyclist – was on his electric bike and cycling with two friends on the morning of the accident.

As they approached the roundabout, his friends moved on to a cycle-path. Mr Seminara stayed on the roundabout.

Gass accepted that as he negotiated the roundabout he made a split-second “careless assumption” about which roundabout exit Mr Seminara would take.

He believed the pensioner – in a high-visibility jacket – would take the second exit but Mr Seminara was intending to take the third exit on to the Cargo road.

It was as Gass tried to pull past him that his trailer collided with Mr Seminara.

The court heard a moving statement from the dead man’s widow Joyce, to whom he was married for 56 years.

She and her family had felt let down by the justice system, with earlier legal errors causing delays which prevented them from moving on with their lives, she said.

“I miss my husband every single day,” she added. “It’s been hard during the pandemic. We should have been at home together yet I had to go through this alone.”

“It has been hard during the pandemic. We should have been at home isolating together yet I had to go through this alone.”

Of the impact of the tragedy on the family, she said: “Mike has been taken away from them far too soon. All of the family have had a difficult time coming to terms with Mike’s death.

“He was always willing to help anyone.

“Mike lost his life because of a careless driver and I would like that to mean something.”

Lisa Judge, for Gass, said he offered his sincere apology to the Seminara family though he recognised that they were unlikely to forgive him.

The barrister highlighted a probation officer’s reports which had  “made numerous references to the defendant’s clear, unequivocal and palpable remorse.”

She characterised Gass’s error as a “momentary lapse of attention”.

Recorder David Temkin described the tragedy as a “truly sad case” and Mrs Seminara’s victim impact statement as “powerful.”

He spoke of how she had described her husband as a dedicated family man, devoted to her, their children and grandchildren and wider family.

He had loved the outdoors, swimming, fell-walking, and cycling, which had become more important in his life. He had enjoyed cycling in Europe and extensively across the UK.

His death had left an emptiness in his wife’s life, said the judge, noting how Mr Seminara’s family were in court to witness the sentencing exercise.

Mrs Seminara had said dealing with the court process felt like a kind of limbo. “She said she misses Mike every day.” She spoke also of the devastating effect on their son and daughters of losing Mr Seminara, who had a great sense of humour.

On the day of the accident, as a cyclist, Mr Seminara had been “by definition vulnerable,” said the judge.

Recorder Temkin rejected the defence barrister’s claim that Gass’s attempt to overtake Mr Seminara on the roundabout could be characterised as simply “momentary inattention”.

“You should have slowed down and you should have stayed behind the cyclist,” said the judge, remarking on the narrowness of the road and the greater likelihood of an HGV causing injury or even death if driven unsafely.

There was therefore a need, when driving near a cycist, for him to take greater care, commented the judge. He noted how in 2014 Gass was fined £600 for careless driving.

But the judge noted also that Gass on the day of the tragedy was not speeding, not showing impatience, and not distracted; how he had shown immediate remorse and concern for Mr Seminara.

“I accept entirely that you are very, very sorry,” Recorder Temkin told Gass.

The judge said he was particularly moved by a letter from the defendant’s wife, who described how Gass was haunted by the tragedy, dreamed about it and was now suffering from post-traumatic stress.

Gass was described as a “trustworthy and courteous” and man of “integrity and honour” and the judge accepted that his remorse was “genuine and enduring.”

After considering all of the relevant factors, said the judge, he concluded that there was strong mitigation and a realistic prospect of rehabiliation.

In view of this, he could suspend the jail term he would impose.

The Recorder imposed a 12-week jail term, suspended for 18 months, and he ruled that Gass must take a computer based driver awareness course.

The judge also banned the defendant from driving for 15 months but ruled that there was no need for the defendant to take an extended retest when his ban expires.

References

  1. ^ Carlisle (www.newsandstar.co.uk)