Driver tells M5 death crash victim's family: I wish I'd died instead

A LORRY driver who crushed a father to death in a motorway crash told the man’s family he wished he had been killed instead. James Giles looked across at the weeping family of Aidan Martin Walsh, including his widow and two teenage sons, and said: “I’m really, really sorry. I just wish it was the other way around.

I wish it was me that wasn’t here.” The 62-year-old former professional lorry driver was jailed at Worcester Crown Court on Wednesday after he admitted causing death by dangerous driving following the crash in lane one of the northbound carriageway of the M5 near junction 5 (Droitwich) which killed the 53-year-old father-of-two on July 30 last year. Giles of Highfield Road, Clipstone, Mansfield had been on his bluetooth hands free set talking to his son-in-law about a fishing trip at around 3.10pm when he crashed the 44 tonne Mercedes Actros heavy goods lorry into the back of Mr Walsh’s stationary white Ford Transit van.

The van was crushed between Giles’s HGV and a 76 tonne Volvo articulated low loader which had also come to a stop in the same queue of traffic. A still from a video of the aftermath showed the van crushed to an overall estimated length of between two and three feet. Simon Phillips, prosecuting, said Mr Walsh died ‘instantly’ in the crash and added: “The white transit van is sadly almost invisible between the two.” So severe was the damage that Giles did not realise right away that he had struck the van at all, saying at the scene: “I didn’t see any van.”

Illuminated overhead ‘matrix’ signs on the smart motorway would have warned Giles of congestion ahead. These were displayed 2.2km before the crash scene, again within 1.6km and yet again within 500 metres. “Before this incident he ignored or did not see three separate warning signs” said Mr Phillips who described it as a ‘gross avoidable distraction’.

The driver of the low loader had also put on his hazard lights to warn other drivers. By coincidence two ambulances were following a few hundred metres behind the vehicles involved in the pile-up. However, despite the rapid arrival of the paramedics, ‘sadly they could do nothing’ said Mr Phillips.

The DHL driver’s tachograph indicated Giles was travelling at 56mph over a distance of 4km before he struck Mr Walsh’s van, slowing to 42mph, his speed upon impact. Mr Phillips said Giles would have had 16 seconds to react to the stationary traffic but the lorry’s tachograph showed no braking until 18 metres before impact. The force of the impact was such that Giles not only struck the van but pushed the 76 tonne low loader in front of the van forward three metres.

The son-in-law heard the ‘smashing noise’ of the impact over the phone, an exclamation by Giles and then ‘everything go quiet’. Later the two men spoke again and Giles told him: “I’ve hit the back of a van. I think the driver is dead.”

In police interview the day after the crash Giles said he was ‘gutted someone was dead because of him’ while in a second interview he said: “I blame myself. It will be in my head for the rest of my life. I know it will.”

In a victim personal statement on behalf of the Warwickshire family, Mr Walsh’s widow said she would never forget the day police arrived at her family home to tell her Aidan had been killed. The couple had been married for 19 years and she described her ‘shock, despair and disbelief’ at the loss of her ‘soulmate’ and ‘crutch’. She said: “It hurts to breathe.

I feel there’s a tight band around my heart. “It’s a devastating, cruel and unfair tragedy that was so avoidable.” The Irish-born music lover from Bedworth, Warwickshire who represented Ireland in international table tennis competitions, had been driving for 23 years and had a clean driving licence.

Mark Sheward, defending, said his client had entered his guilty plea at the magistrates court, asking that he be given a third reduction in the length of his prison sentence. “At the first time of asking he accepted responsibility” he said. He told the court Giles, an HGV driver for 18 years, had been diagnosed with PTSD since the accident and now ‘he simply can’t get into a lorry’.

Giles had been the main breadwinner but had not worked since the crash and he and his partner had had to move into rented accommodation because she could not pay the mortgage. Judge Nicolas Cartwright said: “The collision was your fault entirely. The cause was a significant period of inattention and or distraction on your part which must have lasted at least 16 seconds.

“You did not even realise until you got out of the vehicle that you had struck a van from behind.” He described the family’s statement as ‘a dignified but also tragic document’. Giles was jailed for 40 months and banned from driving for not less than three years.

This ban was extended by 20 months so as to begin when he is released on licence at the halfway point of his sentence. He will have to complete a mandatory extended driving retest. When Giles told the family he wished he had died instead of Aidan, Mr Walsh’s widow replied: “I wouldn’t wish this on anyone.”

Judge Cartwright said Giles’s remarks did him credit.

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