A Ripon man has been spared an immediate jail sentence after causing the death of a disabled man in a horrific three-car crash near the city.
Robert Hilton, 24, had crossed the double white lines on a sweeping bend when his Fiat Stilo hit a VW Golf carrying an elderly couple, then cannoned into a Mercedes carrying newly married 41-year-old Lloyd Edwards, driven by his wife Beverley, pictured below.
Mr Edwards, of Ripon – who had been married just 11 days earlier and was on his way to a family Christening – was taken to hospital and fell into a coma after suffering multiple organ failure. His life-support machine was switched off two days later.
York Crown Court heard that Mr and Mrs Edwards’ vehicle was struck by Hilton’s Fiat on the B6265 Ripon to Boroughbridge road on September 23, 2012, at about 10.20am.
Hilton, of Priest Lane, Ripon, was initially charged with causing death by dangerous driving but denied this and so the case did not reach court for conclusion until last week – more than two years after the crash.
Hilton appeared in the dock on Friday, November 7, when he pleaded guilty to an alternative charge of causing death by careless driving.
Prosecutor Jonathan Sharp said Hilton had been in trouble before for driving without due care and attention.
In 2009, he was given two police warnings for careless driving likely to cause alarm or distress to the public. On the second occasion, his car was seized by police.
The horror crash happened on a Sunday morning, when Hilton took a bend on the narrow, winding road and veered over the white lines by up to a metre, into the path of the VW carrying elderly couple William and Rosemary Betts.
Hilton’s Fiat caught the front of the Golf with a glancing blow, causing it to career off the road and crash into a field.
Mrs Betts nearly lost consciousness but she and her husband survived relatively unscathed.
Hilton’s car then spun out of control and struck Mr and Mrs Edwards’s Mercedes, which was travelling behind the Golf.
Mrs Edwards suffered only minor injuries but her husband, who had motor-neurone disease, was knocked unconscious. He suffered a haemorrhage which led to organ failure.
Mrs Edwards issued a statement after the accident which read: “I cannot believe this has happened. We spent five fantastic years together and were very happy.
“Lloyd had a great sense of humour and made me love every day. He was not only a husband but a wonderful man and father to a step-daughter.”
Prosecutor Mr Sharp said Mrs Edwards still found it difficult to go back out on the roads and was struggling to move on in her life.
Defence barrister Richard Dawson said Hilton had not slept much the night before but felt okay to drive and was on his way to work as a green-keeper at a golf club when the accident happened.
He added that Hilton was racked with guilt after hearing of Mr Edwards’ death.
“For eight months he sought to assuage his feelings of guilt by turning to the bottle and to other substances for a period of time,” said Mr Dawson.
“He failed to cope with his distress and it led to him losing his job and his home.”
Judge Stephen Ashurst told Hilton: “This case is a classic example of lives that have been wrecked by a piece of careless driving. You are going to have Mr Edwards’ death on your conscience for evermore.”
He said the offence was serious enough to merit a prison sentence but added that he was bound to adhere to sentencing guidelines set down by the Home Office, which would have seen Hilton released within weeks if he had been given an immediate jail term.
“If I send you to prison (for such a short time) it would only compound the grief of Mrs Edwards,” he added.
“Mr Edwards was doing his level best to enjoy life to the full despite his disabilities. The fact that this happened just after weeks after his marriage only compounds the tragedy.”
Hilton was given a six-month jail sentence suspended for two years. He was also ordered to carry out 200 hours’ unpaid work and was banned from driving for five years.
Mr Ashurst told Hilton – who was also made to pay £800 costs – that he would have to take an extended driving test before his licence was returned to him.
The judge offered his “considerable sympathy” to Mrs Edwards, who was in the public gallery along with other family members including Mr Edwards’ mother.