Drink-driver who killed rickshaw passenger in crash has sentence increased

Luis Balcazar Soto did not have a licence and was over twice the drink-drive limit in Elephant and Castle, south-east London.

Luis Balcazar Soto
Luis Balcazar Soto

A drunk driver who was jailed for crashing into a rickshaw and killing a passenger has had his prison sentence increased after it was challenged by the Solicitor General at the Court of Appeal.

Luis Balcazar Soto, 25, did not have a licence and was over twice the drink-drive limit when the silver Kia he was driving smashed into the pedicab, throwing Sophie Strickland, 31, from the vehicle.

Ms Strickland – who died in the collision in Elephant and Castle, south-east London, in the early hours of July 10 last year – had been out celebrating her birthday.

After pleading guilty to causing death by dangerous driving and other offences, Soto was jailed at Southwark Crown Court in November for a total of nine years and nine months, and banned from driving for 10 years and nine months.

On Wednesday, senior judges increased his total prison term to 12 years and nine months after his case was referred to the Court of Appeal by the Attorney General’s Office (AGO) under the unduly lenient sentence scheme.

His driving disqualification was increased to 14 years and four and a half months, the court heard.

Luis Balcazar Soto court case
Sophie Strickland died after being thrown from the rickshaw she was in after it was crashed into by Luis Balcazar Soto (Metropolitan Police/PA)

But at the hearing in London, Solicitor General Michael Tomlinson failed in a bid to challenge the sentence of another drink-driver who was jailed over a fatal collision with a pedestrian in Norfolk last July.

Malcolm Waite, 68, was given a total sentence of eight years at Norwich Crown Court in November after he swerved his Lexus car on to the pavement of the A149 Wayford Road at Stalham, killing 20-year-old Fenella Hawes on July 31.

One Norfolk Police officer described Waite, a retired engineer formerly of Meadow Drive, Hoveton, as “the drunkest person I have ever seen behind the wheel of a car”.

The court heard on Wednesday that both cases touched on the effect of the maximum sentence for causing death by dangerous driving increasing from 14 years to life through a law change in June.

Lord Justice William Davis, sitting with Mr Justice Sweeting and Judge Heather Norton, said that in Soto’s sentencing Judge Deborah Taylor had failed to take account of the increase in the maximum term.

But in Waite’s case, he said Judge Alice Robinson was “well aware” of the law change and there was “nothing plainly wrong” in her sentencing.

Lord Justice Davis told a full courtroom that “nothing about the outcome” of the decisions “can begin to retrieve the appalling tragedy that has befallen both those associated with Fenella and those associated with Sophie”.

He added: “We fully appreciate that. We do our best to sentence by reference to guidelines and sentencing principles.”

Southwark Crown Court had heard that Soto, whose former partner and friend were in the car with him, was described by witnesses as “driving like a madman” as he hit speeds of up to 70mph.

The rickshaw’s driver Tanzir Ahmed, who is in his 30s and was seriously injured, had stopped in New Kent Road so Ms Strickland and her friend Jade Redford, who was not harmed in the crash, could use a cash machine.

Ms Strickland, from Hay-on-Wye in mid Wales, had gone to the capital to celebrate her birthday with friends and had just got back into the rickshaw before the collision.

Soto, from Elephant and Castle, tried to run from the scene but was stopped by members of the public who he threatened to punch and offered money to let him go.

He pleaded guilty to causing death by dangerous driving, causing serious injury by dangerous driving, acting in breach of a restraining order – by seeing his former partner – and breaching a suspended sentence.

Mr Ahmed described the incident as “the worst thing that has ever happened to me” while Ms Strickland’s family and friends told of their devastation.

Mark Butler, defending, said Soto “apologises profusely”, adding: “His remorse is demonstrated by his guilty pleas.”

Waite, whose car was found to have a half-empty bottle of vodka inside, failed to stop after hitting Ms Hawes and a 16-year-old – who suffered cuts and bruising – walking along the road, Mr Tomlinson told the Court of Appeal in written submissions.

He continued for another 800 metres before veering off the road again, hitting a road sign and lamppost, before being found inside with glazed eyes and slurred speech.

Waite, who told hospital staff he had drunk “two bottles”, later admitted causing death by dangerous driving, with his sentence including a disqualification for 11 years until an extended test was passed.

Ms Hawes’ mother Margaret previously said in a statement that “her bright future was taken out in a few seconds because of someone who did not think or did not care” and that she “never had a chance to say goodbye”.

In his written arguments, Mr Tomlinson that in Soto’s case, “in light of the change in the law, the sentence is unduly lenient”.

For Waite’s sentence he said the judge failed to give “sufficient weight” to aggravating factors including hitting two vulnerable road users and failing to stop.

Waite’s lawyer, Andrew Campbell-Tiech KC, highlighted his “real remorse” and “substantial mental health deterioration” during a marital breakdown.

Lord Justice Davis gave brief reasons for the appeal judges’ decision, with a more detailed written judgment expected on Thursday.

Mr Tomlinson said after the ruling: “Today all my thoughts are with the family and friends of Sophie Strickland, whose life was so tragically cut short by the criminally dangerous driving of Luis Fernando Balcazar Soto.

“I want to pay tribute to Sophie’s family, who have shown immense strength and courage during such a desperately difficult time.”

He added he was pleased Soto would “serve a prison term which is a more appropriate reflection of the dreadful harm that he has caused”.

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