Chef died in car crash as workmates raced home from a night shift, court told

Zach Whittall. Photo: Robin Stewart EMN-140820-180458001
Zach Whittall. Photo: Robin Stewart EMN-140820-180458001

A young chef died in a horrific car crash when two workmates were racing on their way home from a night shift, a court has heard.

Zach Whittall (21) suffered the fatal injuries when the Vauxhall Corsa he was a passenger in hit a tree.

The Corsa was driven by housemate and fellow chef, Luke Mercieca (23) who worked with him at the Olive Branch pub restaurant, in Clipsham, Rutland.

Daniel Smith (26), from Wittering, who worked with the pair, was in a Vauxhall Astra travelling behind the Corsa, when the accident happened on Clipsham Road towards Stretton village at just after 11pm on Tuesday, August 19, 2014.

Mercieca, of Leicester Road, Loughborough, but formerly of Stretton, and Smith, of Lawrence Road, Wittering, have both pleaded not guilty to causing Zach’s death by dangerous driving.

Matthew Lowe, prosecuting, told a jury at Leicester Crown Court: “The evidence suggests that moments before the Corsa left the road they were engaged in competitive driving with each other.

“Mercieca was driving behind Smith’s vehicle in excess of the 60 mph national speed limit.

“Mercieca went to overtake Smith.”

Mr Lowe said Smith tried to deter that manoeuvre, either by swerving or accelerating, and Mercieca lost control after over-correcting type manoeuvres.

Mr Lowe said both men were “acting together and jointly responsible.”

He added: “Smith and his vehicle emerged unscathed but the prosecution case is that it was as much Smith’s driving as Mercieca’s that resulted in the death of Zachary Whittall.”

The court was told during Smith’s 999 call to the emergency services, he said: “F*** me, it’s all my fault.”

A recording of the call was played to the jury, including Smith saying another colleague who had just arrived at the scene did not think the front passenger was breathing and saying “The front of the car is smashed up.

“It’s hit a tree.

“This is really bad.”

Zach, from Great Oxendon near Market Harborough, died at the scene.

Smith allegedly told a police officer who questioned him at the scene: “He was overtaking me, we’d just come from work.

“I couldn’t let him pass me as I’d just got a new car.”

However, it is alleged he refused to sign the officer’s notebook confirming he made the remark.

Mr Lowe said: “The prosecution say it’s a comment that’s going to be of significant value when you come to consider the cause of the loss of Mercieca’s car.

“The two of them driving in the way they did, in that competitive way, was the reason for the loss of control of Mercieca’s Corsa and, in turn, the collision with the tree and, in turn, the death of Mr Whittall.”

The court was also told Mercieca was seriously injured and taken to hospital.

A collision investigator estimated the Corsa hit the tree at between 60 and 70 mph.

Road conditions were good and neither car had defects, said Mr Lowe.

The trial continues.