A YOUNG trucker who fell asleep at the wheel and killed a “one of a kind” Carlisle grandad in an A66 horror head-on crash has been jailed for four years.
Dash cam footage from Rhys Gardiner’s Mercedes HGV showed it moving onto the centre line before drifting left and travelling partially off the road for 101 metres at around 50mph on a sweeping right hand bend in darkness close to Kirkby Thore, between Penrith and Appleby.
The dash cam footage was triggered by a “violent bounce” as the nearside wheels of 24-year-old Gardiner’s tractor unit and trailer struck a worn away dip next to a farm access road. It fully rejoined the A66 and again crossed the white line into the path of oncoming 72-year-old fellow wagon driver Tim Harkness, also known as Timbo.
Despite both men trying to take desperate evasive action, their vehicles collided and Mr Harkness – a husband, father and grandfather – died. An eyewitness who saw the tragedy, at 5-42am on Tuesday, 3rd April, 2018, concluded the pensioner “stood no chance”.
A sound recording captured Gardiner stating “ohhhh” just before the crash. He denied causing death by dangerous driving but was convicted, unanimously, after a trial at Carlisle Crown Court.
Prosecutor Tim Evans told jurors Gardiner was “an accident waiting to happen” after having “very little sleep” earlier that night and during he previous Easter weekend. He’d send a text to his girlfriend at 2-32am – an hour before he started his fateful journey – which read: “Tired lol.”
Gardiner, of Old Hall Road, Bentley, near Doncaster, was sentenced this morning (MON), when Mr Evans stated of the crash cause: “It was quite simply the defendant falling asleep.” There were no tachograph rest break breaches, but Gardiner was “too tired before he started” work.
In a statement, Mr Harkness’s widow, Jane Barton called him “irreplaceable” and “one-of-a-kind” who “made everyone laugh”. “I don’t know how to start to explain what losing Tim has done to me and our family,” she said.
“It has now been almost two years since I lost Timbo. He was my best friend. I still send him text messages, especially if I have had a bad day, I know I am not going to get a reply but I still feel that I need to talk to him.”
Gardiner, an inexperienced HGV driver without previous convictions who denied falling asleep at the wheel but was remorseful for what happened, was jailed by Recorder Eric Lamb.
Recorder Lamb observed: “No sentence which is imposed by this court can ever right the wrong of the loss of Timothy Harkness’s life – somebody so much loved by those whose lives he touched.”
Gardiner must serve a three-year driving ban when released from custody, and pass an extended re-test.
Sergeant Callum Young of Cumbria Constabulary’s Mobile Support Group, said: “It is clear that tiredness has impeded the driving of Gardiner prior to this tragic collision.
“Being behind the wheel when you are unfit through tiredness can have as debilitating an effect on your ability to drive as being over the limit for alcohol or on drugs.
“In this instance, the result was made worse by the fact Gardiner was behind the wheel of a HGV, which meant Mr Harkness never stood a chance.
“The thoughts of everyone at Cumbria Police are with the friends and family of Mr Harkness at this time.”