Man jailed after falling asleep at wheel of car on M1 in Derbyshire and causing death of 86-year-old woman

The aftermath of the crash. (Photo - Highways England)
The aftermath of the crash. (Photo - Highways England)

A man who fell asleep at the wheel of his car on the M1 in Derbyshire and caused the death of an 86-year-old woman has been jailed.

On CCTV footage played at Derby Crown Court, a blue Saab driven by Gelu Rus could be seen swerving left, then right and then left again before colliding with a Nissan Qashqai containing Elizabeth Harrison, her 90-year-old husband and two of their children.

An air ambulance at the scene. (Photo - East Midlands Ambulance Service)

An air ambulance at the scene. (Photo - East Midlands Ambulance Service)

The Qashqai, which was being driven by Mrs Harrison's daughter, was forced off the carriageway, up a bank and into a tree.

Mrs Harrison suffered multiple fractures in the crash and died two days later in hospital.

Roy Harrison, her 90-year-old husband, suffered broken bones in the crash and survived. He later died from an illness almost a year to the day after the crash.

Rus, a father-of-two from Forest Fields in Nottingham, has now been jailed for 10 months after admitting being responsible for the death of Mrs Harrison.

Sentencing, Judge John Burgess said: "You cannot listen to a case like this without feeling how unfair life can be sometimes.

“A much-loved woman of 86 lost her life and her 90-year-old husband was seriously injured.

“He lost his wife and his daughters lost their mother.

“On the other hand none of this was the intention of the defendant.

“He was keeping to the speed limit, he was not seen to be driving in a way that suggested he was going to take any risks.

“There are occasions when people behave appallingly, even wickedly and the consequences are small or even negligible.

“Then there are cases where the blame attached to the person may be small but the consequences of their actions are devastating.

“Mr Rus said that he believed he fell asleep at the wheel of his car.

“He had been up early that morning and he had been to work.

“He only had five hours sleep and the heating in his car was on full.

“He said he believed this led to him momentarily closing his eyes and falling asleep.”

Prosecutor Mark Achurch said the collision happened on the southbound M1 between junction 29 for Chesterfield and junction 28 for Alfreton in the afternoon of December 30, 2017.

He said: “An independent witness, who was behind both vehicles, saw the defendant’s car swerve to the left and into lane one and then to the right into lane three narrowly avoiding another car.

“He then appears to over compensate and swerves back left, colliding with the Nissan and pushing it off the carriageway.

“The Nissan goes up a bank and into a tree before beginning to roll back to lane one.”

Mr Achurch said Mrs Harrison was found to have moved forwards and into the footwell of the rear passenger seat in front of her.

She was airlifted to Sheffield Northern General Hospital but died on January 1.

He said a post mortem examination revealed she had suffered multiple fractures to her ribs and a fractured femur.

Mr Achurch said subsequent investigations showed there were no defects with the car, there was no evidence of speeding, alcohol or drug use and that Mr Rus was not using his mobile phone at the time of the crash.

He said: “He was interviewed and told officers his wife and children were in his car and that he had no idea why the collision occurred.”

Rus, of Laurie Avenue, Forest Fields, Nottingham, initially denied being responsible for the accident but later pleaded guilty to causing death by careless driving.

Mr Achurch said he is currently a banned driver having amassed 12 points on his licence for speeding offences and for driving while using a mobile phone.

Chris Hallas, for Rus, said at the time of the crash his client was on his way home to Nottingham after dropping his mother-in-law off at Doncaster Airport and “made a mistake” in driving as he did not want to let her down.

He read out part of a letter Rus had written to the judge,

In it he said: “I know I am guilty and I am so sorry.

“I could not tell the truth at that (earlier) hearing because I was in shock.

“But I am glad I can tell the truth now.”

Mr Hallas said: “He is a family-orientated man who has a wife and two children, aged five and two, who were also involved in the crash.

“He came here in 2014 from Romania for a better life and his life revolves around the church.”

As well as the jail term, Judge Burgess disqualified Rus from driving for two years and five months.

A version of this story first appeared on the Derby Telegraph.