Teenager locked up over family crash deaths

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The Independent Online

An 18-year-old was sentenced to five years in a young offenders' institution today after causing the deaths by dangerous driving of a mother and daughter while they were out for a Sunday stroll.

Jamie Smith, of Alamein Avenue, Chatham, Kent, ploughed into Elsie Blades, 84, and Marilyn Herlihy, 60, as they crossed the road on a bend near the elder woman's home in Station Road, Strood, on July 26 last year.

Smith, who had held his licence for five months, was likely to have been driving his Seat Ibiza at around 50mph despite there being a 30mph speed limit in place, Maidstone Crown Court heard.

Prosecutor Peter Forbes said investigations by police had found that the maximum controlled speed that would have been possible to take the bend was 47mph.

It was also calculated that the distance that Smith would have been able to see the two women from was 44 metres. Had he been driving at the limit of 30mph there would have been a maximum stopping distance of 41 metres, so would have been within the distance.

"However, there was a loss of control causing the vehicle to slew across the carriageway, ultimately resulting in the impact," Mr Forbes said.

He said that when interviewed by police, Smith told them he was driving at about 35mph. When he saw the two pedestrians he said he panicked and he put his foot on the brake but it slipped off.

The teenager also said he tried to steer away from them but it felt like the wheel would not turn.

Mr Forbes told the court this was called understeer, and sometimes happened when vehicles were travelling at high speeds.

Mrs Blades was pronounced dead at the scene while her daughter was airlifted to the Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel but died soon afterwards.

Moving victim impact statements were read out during the hearing, in which their relatives spoke of the pain of losing members of two generations of the same family at once.

Mrs Herlihy's husband of 40 years, Derek, and their two children Liz and Gordon, described how they lived their "worst nightmare" as they waited for news of her condition, already knowing that Mrs Blades was dead.

They were told at the hospital they would be able to see her but she suffered a fatal heart attack before this could happen and they did not get to see her before she died.

Passing sentence, Judge Andrew Patience said he took into account the fact that Smith felt genuine remorse, was of good character, had no previous convictions or driving offences, and had pleaded guilty to the two counts of causing death by dangerous driving.

But he added that the sentence must "serve as a warning to others of the devastating consequences which can follow from a failure to properly observe the rules of the road and, in particular, speed limits.

"Of course you did not set about that day to harm anyone. However, because of the dangerous speed you were driving that car, about 50mph, you brought about the deaths of these two persons," he added.

Smith, dressed in a black suit, wept throughout much of the hearing and stood in the dock clutching his hands in front of himself as the sentence was passed.

He was also disqualified from driving for seven years and told he must then take an extended driving test if he wants to get behind the wheel again.

Following the sentencing, the family said in a statement: "We are glad that this has finally been concluded.

"Nothing can bring back the people that we've lost.

"We have the life sentence of knowing that their lives were cut short by the senseless acts of Jamie Smith.

"We would like to thank our friends and family for their support, as well as Kent Police."