Man guilty over runaway van deaths

Click to follow
The Independent Online

A man whose runaway van killed two young people after he failed to apply the hand brake properly when he parked was today found guilty of causing death by careless driving.

David Smith, 24, and Claudia Kauert, 30, were hit by the driverless vehicle as it rolled down a sloping street in the City of London on April 24 last year.

Van driver Larkland May, 52, who delivers office stationery, had parked on Pudding Lane - a road with an incline of about 5% - to drop off a parcel at nearby Peninsula House.

When the driver of another vehicle unwittingly made contact with the van, it rolled away and struck the two pedestrians one after the other.

Both were pronounced dead the same day.

After a one-week trial at Southwark Crown Court in London, May was convicted of two counts of causing death by careless driving, a court official said.

The jury took less than two hours to reach its verdict.

Judge Geoffrey Rivlin QC instructed jurors to acquit the van driver of two alternative counts of manslaughter earlier this week.

May, of Edmonton, north London, had denied all charges.

Prosecutor Christopher Hehir said at the start of the trial: "The defendant did not apply the hand brake of his van.

"Whether he forgot to do so altogether or only pulled the hand brake up a little way, the evidence shows the hand brake was not set.

"The application of only a small amount of force would have been enough to set it rolling down the road. It was an accident waiting to happen."

The incident occurred on a busy Friday lunchtime when the van was knocked by a Saab driven by a BBC cameraman making a documentary about poet TS Eliot.

As it moved downhill, it gathered speed and mounted the pavement, where it struck temporary Lloyds TSB employee Mr Smith and German national Ms Kauert.

Ms Kauert, who was on a business trip to London, might have been distracted by her mobile phone at the time, the court was told.

After hitting her, the van carried her along and she was trapped by it until some passers-by freed her when the vehicle stopped.

She suffered massive internal and leg injuries and went into cardiac arrest, the jury heard.

Paramedics and doctors called to the scene were unable to save her and she was pronounced dead shortly afterwards.

Mr Smith was left lying on the ground after he was struck.

He suffered grievous crushing injuries to his torso and was taken by ambulance to the Royal London Hospital but was pronounced dead at 4.26pm.

Post-mortem examinations found their deaths were caused by multiple injuries consistent with a road traffic collision.

The pedestrians did not see or hear the van coming as it approached them from behind and the engine was not running, the court heard.

Following the collision, the van carried on down Pudding Lane until it hit the wall of a delivery bay at the bottom.

May had been working for stationery company Lyreco since May 2008 and was regarded as a good employee.

He told police afterwards that he had put the hand brake on fully as far as he knew.

Giving evidence on Monday, he spoke of his shock and devastation at the deaths.

He said: "On that day three sets of families were devastated.

"There was the family of both the young man and the young lady and my family. It was a hard time for everybody.

"It's something I will never forget."

He will be sentenced on October 1.