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Witness describes seeing victim being ‘thrown through the air like a rag doll’

A lorry driver had reached over to play a sermon on his mobile phone moments before hitting and killing a Plymouth cyclist, a court has heard. John Noble has admitted causing Chris Dennehy’s death by careless driving, but the Plymouth Herald reports that the Crown Prosecution Service has decided to pursue the more serious charge of causing death by dangerous driving.

Chris Dennehy, a 58-year-old supermarket worker, was hit by a DAF lorry being driven by Noble on the Exeter-bound carriageway of the A38 outside Plympton on September 5 last year. In a statement, his mother said he had been riding the same route he had ridden regularly since the Tesco branch at which he worked opened some 35 years ago.

“I saw a body being thrown through the air like a rag doll against the crash barrier,” said Linda Richards, who had been driving a Fiat camper behind the lorry when the incident took place.

Piers Norsworthy, prosecuting, told Plymouth Crown Court that how Noble had told police at the scene that he must have “drifted” to the left. He said Dennehy had been on the hard verge of the road, the other side of the rumble strip from the nearside lane.

Nigel Pearce, regional director at Saltash-based courier Righton for whom Noble was working at the time, said that the driver had come to see him three days after the crash.

“He said that he needed to tell me something. He said that while driving on the 5th he had reached across to play, specifically, a sermon on his mobile phone. Then he looked up and he was on top of the cyclist. He said it all happened in a split second. He hit him on the nearside wing.”

Pearce added that drivers were warned never to use their mobile phones unless parked.

The court heard that the road was straight and that the weather had been clear and dry. The vehicle’s tachograph indicated that it had been travelling at 54mph prior to the impact.

Dennehy lived with his mother who described him as being ‘fastidious’ about his cycling, even going so far as to carry a dustpan and brush with which to sweep up broken glass he found on the road. She said that on the day of the incident, he had been wearing a high-vis jacket and a white helmet.

In June, we reported how only four per cent of companies use technology to stop lorry drivers using mobile phones at the wheel. The online survey, by road safety charity Brake and the Licence Bureau, also found that two thirds of HGVs and four in five car fleets are fitted with hands free kits. According to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (ROSPA), the use of a mobile phone while driving, whether hand held or hands free, increases the risk of crash by four times, as well as reducing reaction times.

The trial continues.

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