Wednesday, October 30, 2013
Floodwater from a blocked drain caused war hero’s car to aquaplane before crashing into a Renault, killing its Seaton driver
A Colyton man has been found not guilty of causing a head-on crash which killed a rugby coach on a rain soaked country road.
Falklands hero Keith Mills, who received the DSC for leading the defence of South Georgia in 1982, was cleared of causing the death of Richard Sawbridge, of Seaton, after telling a jury that floodwater from a blocked drain caused his Audi Quattro sports car to aquaplane.
A jury at Exeter Crown Court found him not guilty after a week long trial which was attended by the family and friends of Mr Sawbridge, who was a popular sportsman and Round Table member.
He died when his Renault car was hit by Mr Mills’s Audi R8 on the A3052 at Hangman Stone, near Beer, in January last year.
Father-of-three Mr Sawbridge, aged 68, was returning to his home in Seaton after taking winter clothes to a family who lived on a smallholding in Sidbury.
He met them through his job as an education adviser with Devon County Council when he visited them to help their eight children who they were educating at home.
Mr Mills was on his way from his home in Colyton to a dental appointment in Exmouth and lost control of his car after hitting a rivulet of water flowing across the road from a blocked drain.
Other drivers who used the same road on the same day said the conditions were ‘disgusting’ with mud and water making the surface treacherous.
Care home owner Mills, aged 54, of Colcombe Wood, Colyton, denied causing death by careless driving and was found not guilty at Exeter Crown Court.
The prosecution say he was driving too fast for the conditions and lost control after overtaking an elderly couple at speed. His nearside rear tyre was also just below the legal tread limit.
Expert tests showed the car was going at around 50 mph at the time of the impact but would have aquaplaned at any speed over 42 mph. The speed limit on the road was 60 mph.
Mills told the jury he had been a Royal Marine officer for 18 years, retiring in 1996 at the rank of Captain and was awarded the DSC for his role as officer commanding the detachment on HMS Endurance which had defended South Georgia.
He said he learned specialist driving skills during arctic training with the Marines, was a member of the Institute of Advanced Motorists and had been on track driving days with Porsche and Audi.
He said he carried out a safe overtaking manoeuvre but then hit a mud and standing water and the car aquaplaned and hit the oncoming vehicle.
He told the jury: ”I suddenly realised I had driven into an immense amount of mud and said to my self ‘oh ****, this is not good news’. The car his standing water and I lost it completely.
“I did not see the water on the road at the time but was it later when I was in the police car and I could see what must have happened. I remember crossing the road, seeing the oncoming vehicle and thinking ‘this is going to be a big one’.
“I believe my standard of driving was very good. The conditions I encountered during the overtaking manoeuvre were exceptional and could not be predicted. I always drive carefully and drove carefully on that day.”