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On-trial trucker cried out in “fear” before fatal A66 crash tragedy, jury told

Rhys Gardiner

A MAN who denies causing a fellow trucker’s death by dangerous driving on the A66 cried out in “fear” moments before tragedy struck.

Rhys Gardiner, 24, is on trial at Carlisle Crown Court, where a jury has heard his westbound Mercedes wagon was in collision with an oncoming Renault HGV close to Kirkby Thore, between Penrith and Appleby, in darkness just after 5-40am on April 3, 2018.

Renault lorry driver Tim Harkness, a 72-year-old husband, father and grandfather, died in the crash.

Timothy Harkness

The prosecution alleges that Gardiner “fell asleep at the wheel” seconds before impact, an accusation he disputed when later interviewed by police. Jurors have heard that before starting work earlier that morning, Gardiner, of Old Hall Road, Bentley, near Doncaster, had texted his girlfriend: “Tired lol.”

PC Dugald Cunningham, a police collision investigator, told the court this afternoon (THURS) that dash-cam footage from Gardiner’s cab had captured the lead-up to the collision. It was triggered by a “violent bounce” as the nearside wheels of his tractor unit and trailer drifted on to a grass verge and struck a worn away dip next to a farm access road, a rolling tyre mark having extended for a total of 101 metres before the HGV returned to the A66.

Noting its speed while partially off-road to be a steady 52mph, decreasing slightly to 51 and then 49mph, PC Cunningham observed: “There has been no attempt made to stop the vehicle.”

Asked by prosecutor Tim Evans for his conclusion, the officer stated: “In my opinion, the explanation that fits with all the evidence is that he (Gardiner) has fallen asleep. Any other explanation and I would have expected some form of reaction at the point he started to leave the road.”

The dash cam then captured Gardiner’s Mercedes moving back on to the carriageway, on to the wrong side of the road and then turning back towards the nearside in a last-ditch bid to avoid the approaching Renault, which was tight against the nearside of his eastbound lane as Mr Harkness took evasive action.

Audio from Gardiner’s cab captured him shouting “ohhhh”, jurors have heard.

“At that point the defendant can be heard to react to the presence of the Renault approaching,” said PC Cunningham. “It is a cry of what I would class as fear because he knows what’s about to happen.

“At this point he is steering as hard as he can back to the nearside.”

The trial continues.

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