Senior US officer goes on trial accused of causing crash that injured teenagers
Colonel Benjamin Oakes appeared at York Magistrates’ Court.
A senior United States military officer caused a collision which left two teenagers seriously injured and buried under debris, prosecutors have told a court.
Colonel Benjamin Oakes – who is understood to be the head of space policy for the US joint chiefs of staff at the Pentagon – went on trial on Monday at York Magistrates’ Court.
Oakes, 46, has denied two counts of causing injury by careless driving in North Yorkshire.
Prosecutors told a district judge how Oakes was driving a white Vauxhall Astra outside Ashville College independent school in Harrogate on February 2 this year.
Louise Berry, prosecuting, said Oakes was edging out of a junction when he clipped a Ford pickup truck, causing that vehicle to swerve and spin.
The truck collided with a wall and two boys were buried under debris, she told the court.
Giving evidence, one of the boys said: “We got hit through the wall. I think I got knocked out for a bit.
“We were in the bushes. I just heard (his friend) scream.”
The boy said the truck hit him and he went onto its bonnet before hitting the wall.
He described how he found himself with a large piece of the wall on his left leg.
The teenager said he looked over to his friend who saw his own badly injured leg and started screaming and saying he was going to die.
The witness, who was 15 at the time and is now 16, said he saw the Astra edging out the junction and clip the back end of the truck, which was coming up the road “pretty quickly”.
The driver of the Ford Ranger pickup, Samuel Goodall, became emotional as he recalled his vehicle hitting the two boys.
He explained how he assumed the Astra driver had seen him as his car rolled back slightly as he approached the junction.
But Mr Goodall told the court: “The car pulled out in front of me.
“I swerved very violently to the right.”
He said this was an “evasive manoeuvre” and denied that emergency braking was an option for him.
Mr Goodall said he hit another car and then “the next thing I knew, I was heading towards a wall and two boys that were walking in front of me.
“I hit the boys and went through the wall and the car came to a stop.”
Mr Goodall told the court how he got out of his car, which was now in the grounds of Ashville College, and helped the teenagers.
He said he then sat by the road, asking whose was the white car and “how the hell did he not see me?”
The witness said another man said: “It was mine. I didn’t see you.”
Mr Goodall told the court he was going between 20 and 30mph through the 30mph limit but Peter Minnikin, defending, asked him if it could have been nearer 40mph.
He replied: “It’s a built-up area with lots of children around. I wasn’t in a rush. I would’ve been very wary.”
But he then admitted he did not know what speed he was going.
The driver of a third car, which was hit by the truck before it collided with the teenagers, described how she had flashed the Astra to let him pull out.
The woman said in a statement read to the court that she thought the person in the Astra was a “really aggressive driver”.
She said he was “nudging forward” at the junction which she said was “blind”.
And she said: “I really don’t know why he went when he did.”
The woman said: “I did think at the time that the truck was going really quick as it did hit me with some force.”
She said: “I felt like the truck just appeared out of nowhere.”
The woman agreed with Mr Minnikin that the junction was “difficult to negotiate” and drivers needed a “creep-and-peep” technique to exit.
Oakes, from Harrogate, sat listening to the evidence dressed in a grey suit, white shirt and a striped tie.
The Guardian has reported that Oakes has worked in a range of high-level roles for the Pentagon and, according to his LinkedIn profile which was taken down shortly after he first appeared in court, he has been serving as the chief of space policy for the joint chiefs of staff.
District Judge Adrian Lower adjourned the trial until Tuesday when it is expected to conclude.