Driver jailed over crash that nearly burnt a man alive
Victim Ian Stoddart has been left confined to a wheelchair due to his injuries following the crash
A driver who was ‘just a whisker’ under the legal alcohol limit when he made the devastating mistake of thinking he was on a motorway slip-road rather than an ordinary carriageway has been jailed for 16 months.
Mitchell Cox, from Oldbury, ploughed head-on into an oncoming car when he stayed in what he believed was the outside lane, causing life-changing injuries to the other driver.
And a judge heard that victim Ian Stoddart could have been burned alive if people had not rushed to his aid and managed to drag him out as the two cars burst into flames.
As it was, 53-year-old Mr Stoddart had severe injuries which included multiple fractures to both legs and his collarbone, 22 broken ribs, collapsed lungs and ruptures to his liver and a kidney.
Cox, age 24, of Knotsall Lane was jailed for 16 months after pleading guilty at Warwick Crown Court to causing serious injury by dangerous driving.
Prosecutor Daniel Wright said that at 6.20pm on Saturday October 28 last year Cox, having visited a friend in Tamworth, headed to junction 10 of the M42 in north Warwickshire.
Having stopped at traffic lights on the roundabout, Cox, who had planned to join the M42 to get to the M6, followed another car, driven by Paul Thompson, as it pulled away.
But rather than joining the motorway, Mr Thompson was heading along Trinity Road, an ordinary single carriageway road, where Cox pulled out and overtook him.
Mistakenly believing he was on the motorway slip-road, Cox failed to pull back in as he headed round a sweeping right-hand bend – straight into the path of Mr Stoddart, who on his way back to his home in Tamworth.
Neither of them could avoid the head-on crash, and the severely injured Mr Stoddart had to be pulled out of his Mini Cooper as both vehicles burst into flames.
When the police and an ambulance arrived Cox, who had escaped with a collapsed lung and a sprained wrist, was given a breath test which gave a reading of 34 – just one below the legal limit for driving.
He told officers he had believed he was on the M42 slip-road, and Judge Sylvia de Bertodano commented: “This was a genuine mistake, but one made when his awareness was at least dulled by alcohol. He’s not over the limit, but he’s all but on the limit.”
In a statement read in court, Mr Stoddart said: “I get flashbacks to my car exploding. I was conscious when I was dragged out, and saw it explode in front of me.”
He said he had been self-employed, screen-printing glass for doors, but as a result of his injuries, he was unable to carry out the heavy work – and at the time of making the statement he was having to live on his savings.
His injuries had left him confined to a wheelchair, living downstairs at his home, and reliant on his partner and his father for assistance on a daily basis.
He can walk with two crutches and may eventually be able to manage with just a stick – but will suffer from arthritis as he gets older.
Ian Speed, defending, said: “It was a tragic accident. This man thought he was on a dual carriageway, for whatever reason. When he read the victim impact statement, he was totally beside himself.”
He said Cox, who was of previous good character, was in ‘an exceptionally well-paid job’ as an engineer.
But jailing Cox, Judge de Bertodano told him: “When you drove off, you thought you were driving onto a slip-road, but in fact you had failed to observe the road markings and were driving onto a single carriageway road.
“You overtook the car in front of you in a way which was perfectly proper, but you failed to move back in.
“Consequently you were on the wrong side of the road when a white Mini driven by Mr Stoddart came towards you, and by the time you realised what was happening, it was too late.
“Mr Stoddart was trapped in his vehicle as a result of his injuries, and it by the greatest of good fortune that passers-by were able to drag him from his vehicle. Had they not been able to do that, he would have been burned alive.
“As it was, he suffered really serious injuries. Eight months later he was still confined to a wheelchair.
“Now we know he can walk with crutches, but we know from the report he will never walk unaided again, and will never escape from the pain there injuries have caused him.
“He has gone from a fit and active man with his own business to someone who may never work again, and certainly not in the business he had before.
“It is obviously clear this was a genuine mistake. No-one is suggesting for a minute you were showing off or racing.
“What makes it more serious is that it was a mistake that was made after you had been drinking. Of course it’s right you were not over the legal limit, but you were under it by a whisker.
“It must be an immediate sentence. If you drink alcohol and fail to drive carefully, and the consequence is life-changing injuries to someone else, you must got to prison.”