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Level crossing crash driver spared jail for 'incredibly reckless risk'

PUBLISHED: 16:58 04 July 2019 | UPDATED: 18:23 04 July 2019

The wreckage of the car after the accident at Trimley St Martin  Picture: GEMMA MITCHELL

The wreckage of the car after the accident at Trimley St Martin Picture: GEMMA MITCHELL

Archant

A man who put lives at risk, including that of his baby daughter, by driving into the path of an oncoming freight train has avoided going straight to jail.

The scene of the crash on a level crossing in Trimley St Martin  Picture: GEMMA MITCHELLThe scene of the crash on a level crossing in Trimley St Martin Picture: GEMMA MITCHELL

James Wheeler claimed he was being pursued by angry cyclists on June 9 last year, when he swerved his car round the barrier at a level crossing on the Ipswich to Felixstowe line and collided with a locomotive - causing the cancellation of 29 passenger trains at a cost of £55,500.

The 35-year-old, of Adastral Close, Felixstowe, who had denied dangerous driving but admitted endangering the safety of rail users on the day of his trial last month, returned to Ipswich Crown Court on Thursday to face sentencing and admit another charge of driving uninsured.

A freight train driven by Paul Jackson was travelling from Felixstowe docks at about 50mph when a car appeared on the Thorpe Lane crossing, in Trimley St Martin, shortly after 11am.

Prosecutor Stephen Mather said a driver on the opposite side used an emergency phone to call for help, while another witness ran from his garden to find Wheeler lying hurt on the ground, with his 18-month-old daughter strapped to a car seat inside the vehicle.

The scene of the crash on a level crossing in Trimley St Martin  Picture: GEMMA MITCHELLThe scene of the crash on a level crossing in Trimley St Martin Picture: GEMMA MITCHELL

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In the midst of shock, Wheeler was heard to say something about feeling threatened by cyclists - a statement borne out by the quick departure of an untraceable rider from the scene, and one unlikely to have been fabricated, according to Judge Rupert Overbury.

Dan Taylor, mitigating, said Wheeler was in a state of genuine fear following an altercation with up to three cyclists, who pursued his vehicle and allegedly threw a stone at the back window.

The crash caused extensive damage to the car and £1,600 of required repairs to the barrier.

The signs with instructions to drivers near the crossing at Trimley St Martin  Picture: GEMMA MITCHELLThe signs with instructions to drivers near the crossing at Trimley St Martin Picture: GEMMA MITCHELL

Mr Taylor said Wheeler accepted the serious nature and far-reaching consequences.

The father-of-two was also said to play an active role in bringing up his partner's other child, while providing financial security for the family by working long hours at the Port of Felixstowe.

Judge Overbury told Wheeler he had taken an "incredibly reckless risk" but said the ramifications of immediate jail term would be "stark and obvious" for his family.

He suspended a 16-month jail term for a year, with Wheeler to complete 240 hours of unpaid work. He also banned from driving for two years, having been previously disqualified for a year for excess alcohol in April 2016.

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