Leeds & West Yorkshire

Hen party crash death driver jailed for more than six years

Bethany Jones Image copyright West Yorkshire Police
Image caption Bethany Jones was the only person killed in the crash

A minibus driver has been jailed for more than six years for causing the death of a woman in a crash on the M62 in West Yorkshire.

Bethany Jones, 18, died and several people in the hen party group she was travelling with were injured in the crash near Pontefract, in April 2013.

James Johnson, 64, had earlier pleaded guilty to causing her death by dangerous driving.

He was banned from driving for 10 years and jailed for six years eight months.

Leeds Crown Court heard it was not the first time Johnson had been involved in an incident on the M62.

He suffered a stroke while driving 16 stroke nurses in a minibus on the motorway in 2011.

A collision was only avoided on that occasion because one of the nurses applied the handbrake and stopped the bus.

Johnson did not inform the DVLA about his medical conditions and was granted a new three-year licence later that year.

Judge Guy Kearl QC said: "You ought not to have been driving."

The court heard the 24-seater vehicle had mechanical problems as it approached the M62 in April last year and was travelling extremely slowly when the crash happened.

Kevin Ollerhead, 43, whose lorry went into the back of the minibus, was cleared of causing death by dangerous driving following a trial.

Miss Jones, a trainee nurse, was pronounced dead at the scene after suffering multiple injuries.

The 19 other passengers were all seriously injured, including the bride-to-be.

Sentencing Johnson, Judge Kearl said: "They were mothers, daughters, sisters and friends. Each of them had put themselves in your hands to carry them safely to their destination.

Image copyright West Yorkshire Police
Image caption James Johnson pleaded guilty when he appeared at Leeds Crown Court

"They trusted you with their lives."

Sgt Ann Drury of West Yorkshire said: "James Johnson was employed as a professional driver to take a group of ladies to Liverpool for what should have been a happy and enjoyable weekend. He failed in his duty that day.

''The subsequent collision the bus was involved in resulted in the death of Bethany Jones and for many significant, life-changing injuries as well as the traumatic memory of that day's events."

The group of 20 women were travelling to Liverpool for a hen do ahead of the wedding of Stefanie Firth.

They quickly became aware of a burning smell and asked Johnson, of Whytecote End, Wyke, Bradford, to stop the vehicle.

He did stop the bus, which was later found to have a badly burnt-out clutch, and made a brief "cursory" examination but said he could not find a problem.

He continued the journey but the bus slowed to a crawl and was doing just 5.5mph at the time of the crash on the nearside westbound lane of the M62, just after junction 32, near Pontefract.

'A sitting duck'

Judge Kearl said to Johnson: "Had your coach not been struck by the heavy goods vehicle driven by Mr Ollerhead, it would have been by someone else, if there had not been an intervening miracle.

"This was, quite literally, an accident waiting to happen.

"You were, in effect, together with the passengers on your coach, a sitting duck."

The judge said Johnson, who has been driving coaches since 1976, had shown a flagrant disregard for the rules of the road.

"It would have been obvious to anyone, and particularly an experienced coach driver, that travelling at those speeds was dangerous on any motorway," he said. "Let alone the A1M and M62 - two of the busiest motorways in the country."

Johnson had suffered two mini-strokes - in 2009 and 2011 - and had an IQ of 71, with poor concentration and memory, when he was assessed after the crash.

'Pain and suffering'

Sam Green, mitigating, said Johnson, who had one previous conviction in February 2012 for using a mobile phone while driving, had an "overwhelming sense of guilt" about his role in the collision.

Sarah Johnson, who was on the bus at the time of the collision and was a friend of Miss Jones, read a statement outside the court on behalf of all those affected by the crash.

She said: "Today's court result will never ease the pain and suffering caused to so many by the actions of James Johnson.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Many of the woman injured in the crash were left with serous injuries

"On that day, as the ladies got on to James Johnson's minibus for what was to be the start of a fun-packed weekend, nobody could have imagined the devastation that lay ahead.

"The lives of so many have been changed for evermore due to the lack of action resulting in the collision."

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