Royston firefighter found not guilty of death by dangerous driving
PUBLISHED: 15:33 16 November 2018 | UPDATED: 15:33 16 November 2018
An on-duty Royston firefighter who drove his fire engine at speed onto a roundabout with the result that it toppled over and killed a pedestrian was today found not guilty of causing his death by dangerous driving.
David Williams, a fireman for 25 years who was responding to a 999 call at the time of the crash, earlier told the jury his speed as he approached the roundabout in Royston’s Old North Road had been appropriate for the conditions.
Mitchell Bailey, a 58-year-old father of three who has been walking to his Royston home after going to nearby shops, died at the scene of the crash on the night of January 18, 2017.
During the trial at St Albans Crown Court the jury heard that an accident investigator had found Mr Williams was driving the fire engine at between 37.5mph and 39mph immediately prior to entering the roundabout.
The maximum speed for the vehicle to safely negotiate the roundabout was 21.6mph, the court heard.
The prosecution’s case was that Mr Williams had misjudged the speed and entered the roundabout too quickly, with the result that the vehicle toppled over.
The 48-year-old of Baldock Street, Royston, denied causing death by dangerous driving and a lesser, alternative charge of causing death by careless driving, and was acquitted of both charges by the jury.
In the witness box Mr Williams told the court he had been driving fire engines for 17 years.
In that time he said he’d driven fire engines on 999 emergency call outs with “flashing lights” thousands of times.
Most of the call outs he said had meant driving onto roundabouts and he said he’d never once been involved in an accident.
The court has been told the accident that night occurred on a roundabout at the junction of Old North Road and Burns Road, which Mr Williams said he’d driven across hundreds of times.
During questions from his barrister Mark Balysz, Mr Williams said he hadn’t approached the roundabout that night in any way differently to the way he had previously come up to it.
Asked if he’d ever experienced difficulty in driving around the roundabout safely, he answered: “No.”
Mr Balysz then asked him: “Did you drive carelessly on that roundabout on that day?”
He replied: “No.”
The barrister then asked him: “Did you drive dangerously on that day?”
Mr Williams replied: “No.”
Cross examined by prosecutor Peter Shaw, Mr Williams was asked: “Do you accept that toppling over a fire appliance is a remarkable occurrence?”
He replied: “It’s very rare.”
Mr Shaw asked Mr Williams about an assessment he’d undergone in November 2012 for driving fire engines.
The prosecutor told the fireman he’d been advised by the instructor at the time to reduce his speed prior to bends in the road and roundabouts.
Asked what he’d thought of the advice, Mr Williams replied: “I took it on board. That was his opinion as an instructor.”
He told the jury he thought that on the night he’d “set” himself up correctly in terms of his speed and position in the road as he approached the roundabout.
He went on: “What you don’t want to be doing is leaving all driver input to the time you are on the roundabout.”
Mr Shaw told the fireman that it had been estimated that his speed immediately prior to driving onto the roundabout that night had been between 37.5 mph and 39mph.
Asked if those figures surprised him, Mr Williams said: “Not necessarily, no. You would tailor your speed to the conditions at the time.”
Earlier the jury was told that when Mr Williams was interviewed by the police in 2017, he said he would still approach the roundabout in the same way as he had on the night of the accident.
Mr Williams said: “Yes I would.”
Mr Shaw asked him: “Do you maintain that now?”
He replied: “Yes.”
Mr Williams told the court that having driven onto the roundabout he was suddenly aware of a steering problem and immediately decelerated.
He said he had followed his training and when the steering returned he accelerated, which he told the jury was a “taught technique” for such situations.
The court heard tyre traction at the rear of the vehicle was then lost and it toppled over with fatal consequences for Mr Bailey.
A witness called to give evidence for the defence told the court how earlier that evening he had driven up to the roundabout and noticed gravel stones as if shed by a lorry across the carriageway and on the roundabout.
As well as being acquitted of causing death by dangerous driving, Mr Williams was also cleared of the lesser charge of causing death by careless driving.