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Trucker asleep before fatal crash claim

PUBLISHED: 07:57 10 September 2002 | UPDATED: 12:37 03 March 2010

FELIXSTOWE lorry driver Victor Coates fell asleep at the wheel after driving for 20 hours without a break before colliding with a man and killing him, a court heard.

FELIXSTOWE lorry driver Victor Coates fell asleep at the wheel after driving for 20 hours without a break before colliding with a man and killing him, a court heard.

Coates' lorry crashed into Lee Fitt's broken-down car at Marks Tey and hit the 24-year-old from Colchester, killing him instantly.

A jury at Basildon Crown Court heard Coates had been driving for Suffolk-based MJ Graves haulage firm.

Coates faces three charges of making a false record and one of causing Mr Fitt's death by dangerous driving. He admitted the offences of making a false record, but denied the death by dangerous driving charge.

Sir Derek Spencer, prosecuting, said a police inquiry had investigated Coates and the haulage firm, owned and run by Martin Graves.

He added Graves, 39, of Eastland Court, Trimley St Mary, had employed six regular drivers at the haulage firm and all had habitually driven excessive hours.

Graves denied five charges of making a false record and one of the manslaughter of Mr Fitt.

"It was not just 10 minutes at the beginning of the day and 10 minutes at night, but driving excessive hours which caused them to be dangerously fatigued and a threat to the safety of the public," said Sir Derek yesterday.

"All the drivers, including Graves, colluded with the excessive hours by falsifying tachograph charts to omit some which were done at the beginning of the day or end of the day, or both.

"We say Graves was grossly negligent and he was grossly negligent because he knew, or if he didn't know he ought to have known, that all the regular drivers employed or operated by him were driving excessive hours to such a degree it was making them dangerously fatigued."

Coates, of Maidstone Road, Felixstowe, had been at the firm for two weeks before the fatal accident, which happened on December 14, 1999.

Sir Derek said in that fortnight Coates, 57, had regularly driven for excessive hours and falsified his tachograph chart to conceal the true hours he had been working.

The court heard Mr Fitt, of Canterbury Road, Colchester, had gone in his Ford Orion on December 13, 1999, to collect his girlfriend Sarah Norman from her job in Brentwood.

They drove back along the A12 towards Colchester, but Mr Fitt experienced problems with his car and had to pull up on the nearside lane.

The hazard lights were on the Orion and Mr Fitt got out and released the bonnet catch and got out on the driver's side of the vehicle.

He added at the same time – shortly after midnight on December 14 – Coates had been travelling along the A12 in the same direction.

Another lorry driver later told police he had been travelling behind Coates' articulated lorry, but in the lane beside it, when he had heard a loud bang and the vehicle had been showered in debris.

Miss Norman survived with only cuts and bruises. At the time of the collision, Mr Fitt had been standing somewhere near the driver's door of his vehicle in the road and he was struck by Coates' vehicle and he was killed instantly.

Sir Derek said Mr Fitt's vehicle would have been "clearly visible" for 1,200 metres prior to the impact and if Coates' vehicle had been travelling consistently at 50mph over that distant, he would have had it in his view for about 53 seconds prior to the collision.

He added Coates had begun work at 4am the day before the accident and had been on continuous duty for 20 hours-plus. Sir Derek said: "We say the accident occurred because he fell asleep at the wheel."

The trial continues.

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