A driver who crashed into two cyclists, killing both, has walked away with a two-year suspended sentence having pleaded guilty to two counts of causing death by careless driving. Clifford Rennie, 61, hit Andy Coles and Damien Natale as they rode along the A40 between Studley Green and Piddington.
Both riders died at the scene of the high-speed collision. Mr Coles was thrown over a crash barrier and down a hill, his heavily-damaged bicycle found in a tree, while Mr Natale was hit into the other carriageway and found 58 metres from the point of impact.
A police crash investigator concluded that although the evening was sunny, and overhanging trees had created patches of shade on the road, Rennie should have seen the cyclists.
A witness driving another vehicle saw the company director's car swerve and hit the victims at the crest of the hill. He reported seeing Rennie holding his head in his hands after the incident, saying "there's two of them".
After an extended police investigation the driver was charged in July this year with causing their deaths, 13 months after the incident. Rennie pleaded guilty to both charges at High Wycombe Magistrates' Court last month and yesterday was handed his sentence.
Rennie answered no comment to questions in police interviews and provided a prepared statement in his second interview, in which he offered "heartfelt sympathy" to the families of the cyclists, and said as a cyclist himself, he could not explain why he had not seen the two men.
He was sentenced to two years in prison, suspended for two years, disqualified from driving for five years and ordered to pay £475 in costs. Rennie will need to take an extended re-test at the end of the five years.
Tracey Natale, the wife of Mr Natale, said she felt like she was serving a life sentence, while Mr Coles' partner Helen Atherton said in her victim personal statement that the incident was "beyond tragedy, beyond awful, beyond anything I can imagine."
Mr Natale's son Brady said: "You took our family’s stability, you took a loving husband, you took a dedicated father, you took a caring son, you took any excited grandfather."
Judge Michael Gledhill QC told the victims' families: "No words of mine are going to bring these men back. Nobody could be anything but deeply moved at hearing the impact and the effect of their loved ones’ deaths. The consequences for them, their families and friends of the deceased is truly appalling.
"Some or all of the people I have just heard from feel their lives have been destroyed. But I hope that these proceedings, now that they are about to come to an end will bring some degree of closure.
"If I could make it better for everybody concerned I would. I regret to say I can’t. I can only express my deep condolences and sympathy for each and every one of you."
Senior Investigating Officer Sergeant Darren Brown of the Serious Collision Investigation Unit said: "This was an absolute tragedy that needn’t have happened. Due to the manner of Mr Rennie’s driving on that early summer’s afternoon last year, two men, who were simply out for a cycle ride, did not return home to their loved ones.
"We were able to prove that the careless nature of Mr Rennie’s driving was the causative factor in the deaths of Andy and Damien, and given the evidence put to him, Mr Rennie pleaded guilty to both offences. This, at least, spared the family and friends of Andy and Damien the further ordeal of a trial.
"Whatever the reason for Mr Rennie’s careless driving that evening, it is abundantly clear that neither Andy nor Damien contributed in any way to this incident.
"This tragic case underlines the fact that motorists need to be fully aware of their surroundings and be aware of other, more vulnerable road users, especially when driving within national speed limits.
“I know that no sentence would have served as any solace to Andy and Damien’s family and friends, but I would like to pay tribute to them all. They have showed tremendous resolve and patience while this case was being investigated, and on behalf of Thames Valley Police, I would like to extend my condolences to everyone affected by this tragedy."
Dan joined road.cc as live blog editor last year. He has previously written about various sports including football and boxing for the Daily Express and covered the weird and wonderful world of non-league football for The Non-League Paper. Part of the generation inspired by the 2012 Olympics, Dan has been enjoying life on two wheels ever since and spends his weekends exploring the south of England.