Man jailed for causing death of his ‘childhood friend’ after crash in Saffron Walden
PUBLISHED: 13:20 05 February 2019 | UPDATED: 14:08 05 February 2019
A driver who caused the death of his best friend after losing control of his car and crashing into trees in Saffron Walden has been jailed for 18 months.
Clinton Smith, 33, from Saffron Walden, died in 2017 after the vehicle he was travelling in crashed in Chestnut Avenue.
The driver of the vehicle, Andrew Dodds, was charged with causing death by careless driving. He initially denied the charge but changed his plea to guilty on the third day of a trial at Chelmsford Crown Court, on January 30.
The crash happened in the early hours of July 2, after Dodds and a group of friends had spent the day drinking in the Cambridge area, the court heard during the trial.
Dodds, of Manor Park North, Knutsford, in Cheshire, was driving a Volkswagen Polo and carrying two passengers – brothers Jason Smith and Clinton Smith.
Both Jason Smith and Dodds, who were in the front of the vehicle, were wearing seatbelts, but the court heard that Clinton Smith, who was sitting in the rear, was not.
As he approached a “sweeping left hand bend”, Dodds’ car left the road and crashed into three trees, rolling more than 130 feet before coming to a stop.
Jason Smith and Dodds were not seriously injured in the crash, but Clinton Smith suffered “massive head injuries” and he was pronounced dead at the scene.
A blood sample was taken from Dodds, 35, four-and-a-half hours after the incident and found alcohol in his system, albeit below the legal limit.
Scientific tests were unable to confirm whether he would have been over the limit at the time of the collision but did show he would have had alcohol in his system.
On February 5, prosecutor Allan Compton told Chelmsford Crown Court that, from tyre marks left on the road, it was the prosecution’s case that Dodds had been travelling too fast to negotiate the bend and alcohol was an aggravating factor in the case.
In mitigation, Tom Gent said: “It cannot be proved that he was over the limit but it’s clear he didn’t monitor his drinking closely enough and he shouldn’t have got behind the wheel that night.”
Mr Gent told the court that Clinton Smith and Dodds were childhood friends and Mr Smith had been the best man at Dodds’ wedding.
“Because Clinton Smith was such a close friend, the remorse and guilt that he has felt about that night has consumed him,” Mr Gent said. “He is understandably devastated by his best friend’s death and he will carry the burden of what he did forever.”
In his sentencing remarks, Judge Christopher Morgan said: “It’s always a tragedy to deal with people who have killed their best friends during an episode of driving.”
Judge Morgan concluded that Dodds had drunk a “considerable amount” of alcohol during the day and this led to his “failure to negotiate the bend”.
“It’s plain you are devastated by the consequences of your actions,” he said. “But as a result of your driving, one of your best friends, Clinton Smith, died.”
Dodds was sentenced to 18 months in prison and disqualified from driving for two years and nine months.
Investigating officer Sergeant Peter Swan, from the Serious Collision Investigation Unit at Essex Police, said: “This is a tragic incident which has cost a man his life and my thoughts and sympathy are very much with the victim’s family.
“Andrew Dodds was driving in a manner which was beyond his ability. Not only does he have to serve his sentence, but also live with the knowledge that his actions cost his friend his life.
“While tests couldn’t categorically prove Dodds was over the drink drive limit at the time of the collision, it is clear he had alcohol in his system. Having any alcohol in your system will have an impact on your ability to drive and react to hazards. The safest thing to do is to not get behind the wheel if you’ve had a drink.”