A lorry driver who caused the death of a cyclist with a “perilous” close pass towards an oncoming vehicle, which caused the rider to lose control of his bike and crash, fracturing his skull, was spared jail yesterday.
37-year-old Neil James McVeigh was banned from driving for 15 months and ordered to complete 100 hours of community service at Newry Crown Court on Tuesday after admitting causing the death of cyclist Martin Poland by careless driving, the Belfast Telegraph reports.
Mr Poland, a 54-year-old father-of-one, had been riding on the Annalong Road, just outside Kilkeel, Co. Down, at around 1.20pm on Sunday 13 September 2020 when he was overtaken by McVeigh, who was driving a Scania lorry and refrigeration unit, in what was described in court as a “perilous manoeuvre”.
According to an expert forensic engineer, McVeigh’s lorry – which, according to calculations from a tracking device, was being driven at just over 30mph on the coastal road – passed within “50 centimetres or 20 inches” from the handlebars of Mr Poland’s bike.
While there was no evidence of contact between the lorry and the cyclist, the nature of the extremely close pass caused Mr Poland to lose control of his bike. He was thrown over his handlebars and crashed heavily, fracturing his skull and suffering bruising and a laceration to his brain. He was taken by Air Ambulance to Royal Victoria Hospital, where he sadly passed away five days later.
> Lorry driver admits causing cyclist’s death by passing him too closely
Summarising the case yesterday, KC Samuel Magee told the court that the overtake also caused an oncoming motorist to take evasive action by mounting the grass verge, and that the driver’s BMW “shook slightly” as McVeigh passed. After coming to a stop, the car’s passenger looked behind and saw Mr Poland become “unsteady” before crashing.
That fall, the barrister said, was caused by the “grievous nature of the overtaking manoeuvre”, described by Mr Magee as “singularly ill-advised”.
The lorry driver failed to stop at the scene, but police enquiries eventually led them to Mr McVeigh, who told officers that “he had no knowledge of colliding with a cyclist or causing Mr Poland to fall”.
The motorist was charged with causing death by dangerous driving, but last month admitted to the lesser charge of causing death by careless driving, a plea accepted by the prosecution.
Yesterday, McVeigh’s defence KC John Kearney said that he had been specifically instructed to acknowledge and apologise for the devastation and loss caused by Mr Poland’s death.
He argued that the lorry driver’s overtake was a “momentary miscalculation” of the time and space required to safely overtake a cyclist.
“He thought he had enough time, but he was wrong, and that’s the basis of the plea,” Kearney said.
> Lorry driver who killed Davide Rebellin reportedly got out of cab, looked at dead cyclist, then drove off
Judge Gordon Kerr, who last month told McVeigh that he was facing a likely custodial sentence, said that the motorist, as a professional HGV driver, should have known to take extra care, but that it was clear from the evidence that he chose to overtake when it was not safe to do so.
Kerr told the court that, according to the guidelines, a nine-month prison sentence was justified for causing Mr Poland’s death. However, the judge said that, under sentencing guidelines, he was obliged to consider when an enhanced combination order would be appropriate.
Taking into account all of the reports, McVeigh’s plea, and the motorist’s circumstances, the judge ordered the lorry driver to complete 100 hours of community service and a year on probation.
McVeigh was also handed a 15-month driving ban and warned that any breach or failure to comply would likely result in him going to jail.
As the family of the “much-loved” Mr Poland sat in the dock, the judge stressed that “anything this court does or says can never do anything to take away the pain and the loss the family will suffer as a result of this incident”.
> “Drivers have a responsibility to protect vulnerable road users”: Hi-vis police officer close passed by lorry driver
In the same week that McVeigh was allowed to walk free after causing a cyclist’s death, another motorist in Kettering was also handed a suspended prison sentence for hitting a cyclist with her car, leaving the rider with “life-changing” injuries.
Margaret Brown was driving on the outskirts of Wellingborough, North Northamptonshire, on 24 September last year when she pulled onto a roundabout and clipped a cyclist.
Northamptonshire Police say the cyclist, a man in his 60s, suffered serious injuries in the collision, including a fractured skull and bleeding on the brain.
Last week, the 67-year-old motorist pleaded guilty to causing serious injury by driving without due care and attention at Northampton Magistrates’ Court.
The Northamptonshire Telegraph reports that Brown was sentenced to 26 weeks in prison, suspended for 12 months, and banned from driving for 18 months. She was also ordered to pay costs of £85 and a surcharge to fund victim services of £154.
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