Two drivers whose cars hit a cyclist in Shopshire two years ago have been cleared of causing his death by careless driving after they claimed they had been unable to see him because of low sun and glare from a wet road.
On the morning of October 17, 2012, cyclist John Edmund Searle was hit by the wing mirror of a car being driven by Pamela Willocks. The 59-year-old teaching assistant fell into the road, and moments later was run over by a van driven by Russel Davies, inflicting fatal injuries.
He was then hit a third time by a silver Citroen, Shrewsbury Crown Court heard during the trial.
Despite efforts by paramedics to revive him, Mr Searle died at the scene.
According to the Shropshire Star, dentist Gary Pitkin, who was driving the other way on the B4368 Corvedale Road near Craven Arms, stopped to try and assist Mr Searle. As he called emergency services, Mr Pitkin was hit by a blue car, breaking his leg.
Mrs Willocks and Mr Davies denied the charges of careless driving.
The court was told that low morning sun, and glare from the wet road had made it hard for drivers to see as they drove east along the road.
Davies said he had been on the way to a job when it happened.
He said: “All of a sudden the near side wheel on the van struck something on the road. There was a massive jolt. It felt like something like a raised drain cover or something at the time.
“I was a bit worried something had fallen off the vehicle into the road and that was why we went back really.”
He said he was greeted with “carnage”. “It was not what I expected to see when I came back round the bend.”
Asked by his solicitor Miss Kim Halsall if he knew if his vehicle had gone over Mr Searle's bike, Mr Davies replied: “No. I didn’t know at the time, I didn’t know what I had gone over.”
He added that he could not say if he had also driven over Mr Searle. He said: "I don’t know what I went over at the time.”
Prosecutor Simon Davis, asked Davies: “This wasn’t any old bump was it? It was quite substantial?”
Davies said: “I said to the officer at the time I thought it was a drain cover. I don’t know what else you want me to say.”
The prosecutor said: “The jolt you felt was Mr Searle’s body, wasn’t it?”
“No, I don’t know,” Davies said.
Mr Davis asked: “How can you dispute it was Mr Searle’s body?”
“I can’t,” Davies said. “I didn’t know what it was so I don’t know.”
Davies said he had not been driving too quickly and had not been distracted. Asked if he should have been driving more slowly because of the low sunlight and glare he said: “I thought I was driving at a safe speed for those conditions, I would have been driving slower otherwise.”
Constable Ian Edwards, a collision expert for West Mercia Police, said sunlight would have been shining directly into the eyes of drivers travelling eastbound on the road.
After Mr Searle had been hit by three separate cars, Gary Pikin stopped to try and help.
He said: “I thought I saw some rubbish and a bright yellow thing I thought was a sack or bag. I slowed down and as we passed I saw a chap in the road near his bike.”
Mr Pitkin said he pulled up and ran to the aid of the cyclist. He said: “I put my right hand on the cyclist’s shoulder and said ‘I can see you have been hurt, I am going to phone for an ambulance’. The cyclist made a groaning noise.
“I straight away got on the phone and had an infuriating call with the emergency services who did not know what road I was referring to.”
The court heard that while he was on the phone, a blue car hit Mr Pitkin and he fell and broke his left leg.
He said: “I am prone to pacing while on the phone so was walking backwards and forwards trying to explain where I was. While I was facing Craven Arms I got hit by a car that came through, it spun me round and I landed on my backside with my feet slightly over Mr Searle. It felt like a hard rugby tackle and I don’t think I left the ground. Mr Searle did not move from when we passed him in the car to when I was hit.”
Christopher Smith, a passenger in Davies’ van on October 17 on their way to an electrical contract, told the court the weather conditions made driving difficult as the sun was shining strongly and they were driving towards it.
Mr Smith said: “The van was going about 40 to 50 mph. We went over something in the road, about a mile and a half from Craven Arms. It felt like going over a log or something. Russel said to me ‘What was that?’ and I replied, ‘I don’t know’.”
Asked if he was comfortable with the way Mr Davies was driving, Mr Smith said: "Yes."
Mrs Willocks and Mr Davies were acquitted of careless driving by unanimous verdicts of the jury yesterday.
Judge Robert Eades said: “This has been a very unusual case and it had a lot of permutations which made it from a lawyer’s point of view very interesting but from a jury point of view very difficult.”
This is the second case this year in which the prosecution has been unable to convince a jury that drivers who kill should not be able to use being dazzled by the sun as an excuse.
Last month two drivers accused of causing the death of a cyclist by careless driving were cleared by a jury at Newcastle Crown Court. They had said during their trial that they had been blinded by the sun before hitting cyclist Stan Coates on October 26, 2012. The driver who initially struck Mr Coates was found guilty of careless driving.
If some sweary venting about this and similar cases would make you feel better (or even angrier) this commentary by Bez is well worth a read.
John has been writing about bikes and cycling for over 30 years since discovering that people were mug enough to pay him for it rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work.
He was heavily involved in the mountain bike boom of the late 1980s as a racer, team manager and race promoter, and that led to writing for Mountain Biking UK magazine shortly after its inception. He got the gig by phoning up the editor and telling him the magazine was rubbish and he could do better. Rather than telling him to get lost, MBUK editor Tym Manley called John’s bluff and the rest is history.
Since then he has worked on MTB Pro magazine and was editor of Maximum Mountain Bike and Australian Mountain Bike magazines, before switching to the web in 2000 to work for CyclingNews.com. Along with road.cc founder Tony Farelly, John was on the launch team for BikeRadar.com and subsequently became editor in chief of Future Publishing’s group of cycling magazines and websites, including Cycling Plus, MBUK, What Mountain Bike and Procycling.
John has also written for Cyclist magazine, edited the BikeMagic website and was founding editor of TotalWomensCycling.com before handing over to someone far more representative of the site's main audience.
He joined road.cc in 2013. He lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.