A King’s Lynn lorry driver has been found guilty at Peterborough Crown Court of causing the death of a Cambirdgeshire police officer by dangerous driving.
Danny Warby, of School Road, Runcton Holme, King’s Lynn, denied a single count of causing death by dangerous driving but was convicted by unanimous verdict today, Thursday August 4 after a trial lasting nine days.
He was driving a 13.6-tonne white DAF lorry along the A141 near Wyton in Cambridgeshire when he opened a text message on his iPhone, the court heard.
His vehicle then crossed the white line in the centre of the road and clipped an approaching lorry, showering two cars in debris, before crashing into a Renault Clio which was also in the oncoming line of traffic.
The Clio was driven by Cambridgeshire police officer Sharon Garrett, a married mother-of-two who was on her way home from work.
She was pronounced dead at the scene on June 6, 2014.
After the verdict, Helen Guest, prosecuting, revealed Warby had previous convictions for drink-driving in 2011 and for using a mobile phone while driving and driving without a seatbelt.
Judge Stuart Bridge said: “This is a very serious offence with hugely tragic consequences and an immediate custodial sentence is inevitable.”
He remanded Warby in custody until sentencing on September 12 at a venue to be fixed.
As Warby was led down to the cells there was a shout from the public gallery of “Danny, keep your chin up, I love you boy”.
In a statement, the family of Sharon Garrett said: “We would like to express our thanks to the officers involved in the investigation, the prosecution team, and of course the jury in reaching this verdict.
“The whole family remains devastated by what happened in June 2014. Sharon was a wonderful woman, a hard-working and dedicated police officer. She meant so much to so many. Sharon was a fantastic mother who has been taken from her two young children in such tragic circumstances. Nothing can ever bring Sharon back, and words can never express how much we all miss her.”
PC Pete Bimson, who investigated the collision, said: “This was a tragic incident which claimed the life of a police officer. But the evidence heard in court showed it could have been avoided and it really drives home the message that using a mobile phone at the wheel can have fatal consequences.
“Driving while using a phone is one of the ‘fatal four’ driving offences, along with speeding, not wearing a seatbelt and drink or drug driving, for a very good reason: it can devastate lives.
“Use of a mobile phone will be picked up by officers investigating the causes behind any collision and it’s an offence taken very seriously by police and the courts.”
Detective Constable Garrett, 48, joined Cambridgeshire Constabulary in 1991 and served in a number of roles across the force, most recently investigating complex fraud offences in the Economic Crime Unit.
During the trial, Helen Guest, prosecuting said: “Mrs Garrett, in the short time available to her, had started to take evasive action towards the grass verge as the lorry headed towards her, but she was unable to prevent a collision.
“Both vehicles landed on their sides in a ditch at the side of the road.”
Guest said Warby had opened a text message little more than a minute before the crash.
She said he had no hands-free kit for the phone in the lorry.
“It’s possible he didn’t read the text immediately, just opened it,” she said.
“After all, after [he drove past] the safety camera there was a bend and you have to steer round bends and in the meantime after opening the text, where was the phone?
“What was he doing with his hands, what was he thinking?
“The collision took place on a fairly straight stretch of the road, that’s the irony.
“After all the bends and junctions and the more dangerous manoeuvres, this accident happened on a relatively straight stretch of road, when, if a person might be that way inclined, it might present an opportunity to read a text.”
She added: “If you’re interacting with a mobile phone, your eyes aren’t on the road and your two hands aren’t on the steering wheel.”
Warby had completed several short journeys that day in the lorry which was carrying a crane and construction materials.
Guest said Warby had been diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnoea last year and his defence lawyers would argue that he experienced a micro-sleep just before the crash.
But Warby’s reaction to apply the brakes after the first collision was “rapid”, and not consistent with a person who had been asleep, Guest added.