'Paramedic caused fatal crash by ignoring red light'

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The Independent Online

A trainee paramedic killed a woman when his ambulance crashed into her car while answering a 999 call, a court was told yeterday.

The ambulance driven by Ian Fitzgerald, 29, was allegedly spotted "weaving and rocking" at up to 70mph just before the crash.

Mr Fitzgerald had successfully completed an advanced driving course six months before the crash, during whichhe was told he should give way to vehicles at red traffic lights. But he barely slowed down before hitting the car at 40mph, Reading Crown Court was told.

Rosemary Fenney, 40, of Newbury, a schoolteacher who was driving a Peugeot 206, died in the crash from multiple injuries to the head and chest lastOctober. The crash happened soon after Mr Fitzgerald had been called out of Newbury ambulance station.

The ambulance, with its siren sounding and lights flashing, went through the red lights as Mrs Fenney crossed the junction at about 30mph.

Claire Gale, a witness, told the court that the ambulance drove past her as she and her husband sat in their car at the red lights. "I remember saying to my husband, 'Flip, the ambulance isn't slowing down.' I think I got to the end of the sentence then it crashed into a car," she said. "I had no perception of the ambulance slowing down through the junction, and I didn't see any brake lights."

Another witness, Michael O'Sullivan, who was also in a car at the lights, said he saw the paramedics "stumbling out of the ambulance" after the crash.

Neil Moore, for the prosecution, said Mr Fitzgerald was travelling too fast, did not slow down and did not pay enough attention to other cars. "In particular, he did not pay adequate attention to Mrs Fenney's car because he collided with it as her Peugeot was being driven quite lawfully across the junction. The traffic lights in her direction being green, which means she can go," Mr Moore said.

He continued: "That begs the question, how should an ambulance driver responding to an emergency situation have treated the presence of a red traffic light signal, and in what manner should he have negotiated it? It is a matter of common sense, you may think, that drivers from emergency services are not allowed to completely ignore red traffic light signals and go through them without paying any regard to other road users."

Mr Moore said that the laws governing emergency vehicles stated that they were allowed to ignore red lights, but could not endanger other road users.

He said: "In short, the rules and regulations and the training given to drivers of emergency services state that the red traffic light signals should be treated by drivers as a give way sign."

Mr Fitzgerald passed an ambulance driving course - held between March and April 2002 - at the Southern Ambulance College, where the rules were taught. "Had he adhered to them, it is possible this accident would never have happened and Mrs Fenney would still be alive today," Mr Moore said.

Mr Fitzgerald, of Trowbridge, Wiltshire, who works for Royal Berkshire Ambulance Service, denies one charge of causing death by dangerous driving.

The trial continues today.