A drunk driver who killed an Oxfordshire cyclist in a hit and run incident last June, then told police her car had been stolen, subsequently launched a petition calling for it to be compulsory for people on bikes to wear cycle helmets, it has emerged.
Maria Sutton from Cholsey, aged 27, was remanded in custody at Oxford Crown Court earlier this month pending sentencing after admitting causing the death through careless driving while over the legal alcohol limit of Dr Graham Ruecroft from Wallingford.
Dr Ruecroft died in Oxford’s John Radcliffe Hospital five days after he had been struck by a car driven by Sutton on 4 June last year while he rode home from Cholsey station. Opening and adjourning an inquest, Coroner Darren Salter said that the 55-year-old had died from brain injuries.
Sutton, aged 27, fled the scene of the fatal collision, but was arrested by Thames Valley Police the following day. She initially claimed to officers that her car had been stolen but at Oxford Crown Court on 23 December last year pleaded guilty to perverting the course of justice.
At the same court, in February this year she admitted causing death by careless driving but denied being over the drink-drive limit. In a further appearance on 5 April, she changed her plea to guilty on the more serious charge, which carries a maximum penalty of 14 years’ imprisonment.
It appears that at some point between those court appearances in December and February, she posted a petition to the website Change.org under the title “Make it law for a cyclist to wear a helmet.”
The petition, which has attracted 15 signatures, was posted three months ago, according to Change.org – no precise date is given – meaning it is likely to have been lodged at some point in January.
On the petition’s page on Change.org, Sutton said:
I think it should be a legal requirement for a cyclist to wear a helmet and fluorescent clothing! As a driver it's illegal not to wear a seatbelt and receive a fine. Cyclists should have the same responsibility. I have been involved in an accident with a cyclist and he unfortunately died. He wasn't wearing a helmet or reflective clothing and had flashing lights.
She did not mention that she had already pleaded guilty to perverting the course of justice, nor that she had been charged on 16 September last year of causing the cyclist’s death through careless driving while over the drink-drive limit.
The petition was closed on Change.org over the weekend, apparently after the website was told about the circumstances of the case.
Sutton is due to be sentenced on 17 May at Oxford Crown Court.
None of the local press reports of her court appearances to date that road.cc has been able to trace disclose details of any aggravating circumstances raised by the prosecution, nor any mitigating factors that the defence may have put forward on her behalf.
The defendant’s remorse – or lack of it – is one of the issues that can influence the length of sentence handed down.
As we reported at the weekend, the victim’s family have launched their own petition, also on Change.org.
It is addressed to the Justice Secretary Michael Gove and Leeds North West MP Greg Mulholland, whose Criminal Driving (Justice for Victims) Private Members’ Bill is due to receive its second reading in the House of Commons this Friday.
In February, Lord Berkeley, who is secretary of the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group, raised concerns that a review of charging and sentencing in cases where a motorist has killed a vulnerable road user would not now go ahead and would instead be rolled into a wider review of criminal sentencing.
Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.