Fatal crash driver to be sentenced after changing plea during trial hearing

PUBLISHED: 14:48 29 January 2019 | UPDATED: 08:59 31 January 2019

Chelmsford Crown Court.

Chelmsford Crown Court.

A man who initially denied causing death by careless driving after a collision in Saffron Walden will be sentenced next week after changing his plea to guilty.

Clinton Smith, 33, from Saffron Walden, died in 2017 after the vehicle he was travelling in crashed into a row of trees and rolled more than 40 metres, the court heard.

The driver of the vehicle, Andrew Dodds, was charged with causing death by careless driving. He initially denied the charge but, at Chelmsford Crown Court, yesterday (January 30), changed his plea to guilty.

The crash happened in Chestnut Avenue, Saffron Walden 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 at the opening of the trial on Monday (January 28).

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 wearing a seatbelt.

As he approached a “sweeping left hand bend” in Chestnut Avenue, 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, despite the efforts of the emergency services, he was pronounced dead at the scene.

The court heard that debris was strewn across the road and verge in Chestnut Avenue.

In the opening statement of the trial at the crown court, prosecutor Allan Compton said: “It was a significant collision that caused very significant damage to the vehicle.”

On Tuesday (January 29), Mr Compton read out a statement from Alan Perry, the first person to come across the vehicle in the road.

The statement said Jason Smith was outside the vehicle in a “distressed” state and he was asking Mr Perry to help get his brother out of the car. He said the driver, Dodds, appeared shocked.

A statement was also read out from Daniel Foster, a firefighter based at Saffron Walden who attended the scene.

“The events are memorable to me because the man who died went to the same school as me,” the statement said.

PC James Griffin, from Essex Police’s forensic collision investigation unit, told the court the road was “quite a dark place” and said there was no advance warning of a bend.

He said the car came to a stop some 60 metres beyond the first point of impact and the driver’s door was lying six metres away from the vehicle, having been torn off in the collision.

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, the court heard.

Mr Compton said: “Quite what or how much the defendant had to drink remains unclear.

“As the blood sample was taken so long after the incident, it remains impossible to establish the precise amount of alcohol in his system at the time of the crash. There is, however, little doubt that he had been drinking to some extent.”

Mr Compton told the jury: “The question is, how did the Volkswagen end up hitting those trees?”

He told the court there were no eyewitnesses to the crash and the first person to come across the car in the road was retired police officer, Mr Perry, who said he could not smell alcohol on Dodds’ breath.

When emergency services arrived, Dodds told police officers that he had “swerved and hit the bank due to an animal”.

The collision investigator found two tyre marks on the road, but no defects to the road surface and no defects to Dodds’ vehicle.

Mr Compton said: “It’s the prosecution’s case that the marks on the road and marks on the verge determined that the vehicle was travelling too fast for the bend.”

Mr Compton pointed out that the exact speed Dodds was travelling will never be known, but the collision investigator said the tyre marks were consistent with the tyres of a vehicle “reaching the limit of its grip with road surface”.

“One can infer that the vehicle was travelling at a speed that created those tyre marks and there is no evidence of an evasive manoeuvre,” Mr Compton said. “He simply wasn’t paying attention to his speed or the contours of the road.”

Dodds will be sentenced at the crown court on Tuesday, February 5.

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