Polish lorry driver, 31, killed an oncoming motorist ‘after he became distracted in his cab and had to swerve violently to avoid slowing car’

  • Rafal Czarniewski ‘was distracted in his cab’ when car ahead slowed down
  • He swerved violently to avoid the vehicle but slammed into oncoming van
  • Polish 31-year-old was driving DAF lorry when incident occurred on A420
  • Van driver Marcin Zaleski died from injuries he sustained in January crash
  • Czarniewski on currently trial for causing death by dangerous driving

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A Polish lorry driver killed an oncoming motorist after swerving violently when he became distracted in his cab and the cars in front slowed down, a court has heard.

Rafal Czarniewski, 31, was allegedly checking a GPS device in his lorry to see how much longer his journey would take him when the cars ahead of him slowed down.

Oxford Crown Court heard he swerved suddenly to avoid crashing into the back of the vehicle in front but crossed into the opposite lane, killing the driver of a van.

Czarniewski admitted causing death by careless driving but prosecutors refused to accept the admission and put him on trial for causing death by dangerous driving, which he denies.

Rafal Czarniewski, 31, was allegedly checking a GPS device in his lorry to see how much longer his journey would take him when he clipped a car and crashed into a van on the A420 at Faringdon, Oxfordshire (file picture)

Rafal Czarniewski, 31, was allegedly checking a GPS device in his lorry to see how much longer his journey would take him when he clipped a car and crashed into a van on the A420 at Faringdon, Oxfordshire (file picture)

Alan Gardner, prosecuting, told the court a white BMW X5 was waiting in the road to turn right when Czarniewski’s DAF lorry approached on the A420 at Faringdon.

He said Czarniewski failed to see the car in good time, despite it having its brake lights and indicators on, then swerved into oncoming traffic to avoid it.

‘Bearing in mind the lights, the indicator, and the size of the vehicle, the car must have been plainly visible to anyone travelling along that road,’ said Mr Gardner.

The lorry clipped the BMW as it swerved into oncoming traffic before colliding head-on with a Ford Transit van driven by Marcin Zaleski.

Mr Zaleski was taken to John Radcliffe Hospital but died as a result of his injuries.

The court heard the lorry was travelling at around 40mph, the speed limit of the road for heavy goods vehicles, but did not brake until it was just 18 metres away from the BMW.

Mr Gardner said Czarniewski, who had lived in the UK since October 2014, must not have been paying attention before the crash between Oxford and Swindon.

‘The prosecution case is that as the defendant’s vehicle approached the BMW it should have been visible from a potential distance of 138 metres away,’ he said.

‘A vehicle travelling at 40mph would cover that distance in approximately seven seconds. So he should have had time to react to the stationary BMW.

‘The defendant should have had ample time to spot what was happening ahead and respond to it.

‘He must have been distracted so he wasn’t concentrating on the road as plainly he should have been.’

He also told the court Czarniewski, of Spalding, Lincolnshire, had spent much of his journey on the phone.

He said: ‘The police seized his mobile phone and analysed its use that the day.

‘The final period of driving was 3 hours 17 minutes. It transpired that 2 hours 36 minutes of that time had been making and receiving calls on his mobile phone.

‘The prosecution suggest the amount of time he spent on his phone suggests a readiness on his part to take part in activities that distracted him from his driving.’

In his initial police interview, Czarniewski said he had come out of a bend and saw a vehicle stationary in the road.

He said he started braking but realised he couldn’t avoid hitting it by braking so tried to swerve to not hit it.

The court heard that five months later, on May 5 2015, he told police that as he came out of the bend he saw the light of vehicles ahead.

The defendant should have had ample time to spot what was happening ahead and respond to it. He must have been distracted so he wasn’t concentrating on the road as plainly he should have been Alan Gardner, prosecuting

He added that initially he did not know whether the vehicle was moving or stationary.

The officers asked him what lights he saw and he told them he saw red indicator lights and red lights. He said that when he realised it was stationary he started braking but the distance was too short.

He said that he might have been looking at the tachograph, a device which monitors how much drivers travel without a break, to see how much driving time he had left.

Mr Gardner told the jury at Oxford Crown Court: ‘He denied he had had a prolonged look, he said he’d looked for maybe a second.

‘The prosecution case is that he must have been distracted for significantly longer than a second.

‘The distraction it seems was the tachograph.

By the time he returned his attention to the road he was almost on top of the white BMW.’

Defending Czarniewski, Peter Binder suggested the level of dirt on the back of the BMW X5 his client swerved to miss might have contributed to a reduced visibility of the brake lights.

He said: ‘The level of dirt on the vehicle is pretty consistent – to the view that someone behind it may have had, in this case Mr Czarniewski, the lights might not have been as bright as if this vehicle was a lot cleaner.

‘From the point of view of someone behind the vehicle some distance away, would there be five distinct lights or would it be in fact three?’

Mr Binder also suggested he could not see the brake light at the top of the rear window on the BMW due to the levels of dirt.

He also brought to the jury’s attention the fact that there was no law against checking the tachometer while driving and suggested that it was ‘common practice’ among lorry drivers.

He added: ‘Individual drivers are all different in their ability to detect and respond in terms of aspects of perception and response time.’

Mr Zaleski was taken to John Radcliffe Hospital (pictured) but died as a result of his injuries

Mr Zaleski was taken to John Radcliffe Hospital (pictured) but died as a result of his injuries

Czarniewski, speaking through a translator, told jurors he gained his HGV licence in 2008 and it took between six months and one year to find his first job.

He revealed he had driven around Europe including the UK and suggested he had a knowledge of the A420 from his time working for a UK-based company.

He said: ‘I’ve driven this road quite a few times. Obviously you can’t remember all the details but I can say it was familiar to me.

‘I started work at 5am or 6am and my work that morning involved driving. During my journey I was feeling well and I was in good health.

I wasn’t tired and there were no problems.

‘There were no problems with the vehicle and there was only traffic in Northampton as always. I don’t think I was running late for my delivery.

‘Our conversations on the mobile phone took a lot longer than usual. I don’t know why.

I didn’t know I had been on the phone for that amount of time.

‘I had Bluetooth that you put on your ear and when someone calls you, you touch the device.

‘My phone was on the shelf on the windscreen and it stayed there for the journey.’

Czarniewski’s final phone call prior to the horror crash ended 11 minutes before impact and he told jurors he had no involvement with his phone during those moments.

He added: ‘The traffic was quite heavy and I remember oncoming vehicles. I don’t remember seeing the crossroads sign that evening.

‘I’m not certain at what point of the road I checked the tachograph. I only know when I first noticed the BMW I wasn’t certain whether it was moving or stationary.

Oxford Crown Court heard that five months later, on May 5 2015, he told police that as he came out of the bend he saw the light of vehicles ahead

Oxford Crown Court heard that five months later, on May 5 2015, he told police that as he came out of the bend he saw the light of vehicles ahead

‘I’m sure I checked the tachograph along the stretch of road.

I can’t tell you exactly at what point in the road that happened.

‘You only have to push the button on the tachometer and the display shows the time of the journey. It tells you how long you have been driving for and no other information.

‘Fifteen minutes before four-and-a-half hours the dashboard flashes. The warning tells me I have another 15 minutes to go before I have to have a break.

‘I was checking the tachograph at this stage of the journey because I wasn’t sure how long I had driven.’

Czarniewski had been thinking about taking a break at a layby near Swindon before he saw the BMW.

He told the jury: ‘I didn’t know if this car was moving or not and it was very close to me.

‘I started braking as firmly as I could.

I think I turned right subconsciously. It was very fast. I don’t think I could have done any more to avoid the BMW.

‘The road was unlit and I can remember a few cars coming from the opposite direction and I think their beams were too high.

They were dazzling me.’

The trial continues.

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