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Man jailed after crashing lorry into digger

A driver of an HGV has been jailed crashing into a digger on the A1 Photo:

A 72-year-old trucker with poor eyesight has been jailed after ploughing his 44-tonne lorry into a flying hero's JCB in a motorway smash.

John Rogerson, who had been told two weeks earlier by his optician that his sight was no longer good enough for driving, crashed into Stephen Clarehugh's vehicle with such force it became airborne and landed down an embankment 45 meters away from the impact.

Mr Clarehugh, a 54-year-old dad-of-two, who was a flying instructor and former taxi driver who had just become a grandfather, was thrown from the JCB, which caught fire, and died at the scene as a result of multiple injuries.

In 2006 that he averted a tragedy when his quick-thinking helped land a plane with engine difficulties land at Eshott Airfield at Felton, Northumberland, in fading light.

A digger similar to that involved in the crash with an HGV Credit: PA

He also featured on Crime Watch after he helped police track down a stolen vehicle by guiding them with his plane.

Rogerson, who smashed in to the JCB from behind at a speed of around 50mph, remained at the scene of the crash on he A1 at Shilbottle, Norhumberland, on December 9 2015, and told witnesses

"I didn't see him, I didn't see him."

Accident experts concluded that Mr Clarehugh's JCB would have been visible to Rogerson, who had a history of cataracts, diabetes and high blood pressure, for 17 seconds before the smash.

At Newcastle Crown Court Rogerson, of Craig Terrace, Innerleithen, Scotland, who had been an HGV driver for 53 years, pleaded guilty to causing death by dangerous driving.

Judge Robert Adams jailed him for two years and four months and banned him from the roads for six years and two months.

Now Senior Investigating Officer Sergeant, Jason Ryder, has commented on the custodial sentence handed down by the judge at Newcastle Crown Court today.

He said:

This was yet another avoidable death on the roads that has robbed a family of a loving father, grandfather and husband and changed their lives forever.

The mandatory eye test shows that John Rogerson wasn't fit to drive and the fact that he was behind the wheel of an HGV is particularly shocking for me.

All of us, as drivers, have a huge responsibility every time we take to the road. If you are not fit to drive it can have devastating consequences as we have seen in this case.

I want to appeal to any driver who knows or believes they may not be medically fit to drive, to stop and think about their responsibility and seek the appropriate help

I also want to appeal to friends and families of drivers, who feel they are not fit to drive, to encourage them to seek the appropriate medical assistance.

Too many times officers are having to speak about collisions that could have been prevented if drivers had given consideration to fellow road users.

I want to praise the bravery of Stephen's family through what must have been a very testing year.

Hopefully this collision can make road users in the same position as Mr Rogerson think twice about getting behind the wheel.

Newcastle Crown Court Credit: ITV Tyne Tees

The judge told said:

It must be pointed out, Mr Rogerson did not intend death or any serious harm to Mr Clarehugh. He took a risk, knowing of his eyesight difficulties, driving a large lorry, after sunset."

– Judge Adams

Judge Adams said the crash, which was caused by Rogerson's "inattention or his bad eyesight or a combination of the two" had "catastrophic and tragic consequences" which have shattered the lives of Mr Carehugh's family.

The judge added:

About two and a half weeks before the tragedy he knew his eyesight was not up to the required standard and he should no longer have been driving.

These are precisely the circumstances, as light begins to fade, when good eyesight is essential. You never know what obstacles there may be, small or large, cyclists to tractors, ahead of you.

You, Mr Rogerson, took a risk that was not yours to take.

You endangered the lives of other road users as you drove your heavy vehicle south on the A1."

– Judge Adams

The court heard Mr Clarehugh's JCB's lights were not working due to an electrical function, which he may not have known about, and the beacon on his roof was blocked to those behind him by the digger.

But the judge told Rogerson:

You had 17 seconds to perceive, recognise and avoid the JCB in front of you but you did not react. You failed to take any evasive action at all.

In those 17 seconds you should have seen that vehicle in front of you.

I know you did not intend to harm anyone that day but you took a risk, you knew you were taking a dangerous risk.

– Judge Adams
Police Credit: ITV Tyne Tees

The court heard Mr Clarehugh's death has devastated his family and the many friends who knew and loved the "proper Geordie lad", who was a flying instructor.

His daughter Sarah Clarehugh branded Rogerson's decision to drive when he knew he has such poor sight as "abhorrent and selfish".

She said to him from the witness box while reading her statement:

You knew you have been told not to drive. You knew yourself how bad your sight was.

I cannot and will not ever forgive you."

– Stephen's daughter Sarah Clarehugh

Prosecutor Joylon Perks told the court Rogerson had been making a delivery from his firm in Kelso to a depot in Cambridgeshire.

Mr Clarehugh had been at at a friend's farm with his JCB, which could reach a maximum speed of 20mph, and was on his way home when he was killed.

One motorist who witnessed what happened told police he "didn't know how the defendant did not see the JCB" and added: "The driver would have had an elevated view on a straight section of road."

Mr Perks told the court Rogerson had had an eye test just weeks before the crash and been told his eyesight was no longer good enough for him to drive.

He said:

On November 20 1015 he had an supplementary examination. He told the doctor he had not been driving much and felt his vision had deteriorated.

The optician explained to him his vision was below the required standard for driving.

The defendant reiterated he had been struggling with his vision.

He agreed that he though his vision was below the required standard.

He further agreed there was little point in upgrading his driving glasses, as he would not be driving, so only his reading glasses were upgraded.

In the professional opinion of the doctor, Mr Rogerson was fully aware his vision was below the standard required for driving and accepted this in full."

– Prosecutor Joylon Perks

The court heard Rogerson, who has vowed never to drive again, had passed an eye test in the April before the accident but his sight had deteriorated in the months before.

Rogerson, who has never served a prison sentence and was supported by his family in court, handed in references to his ordinarily positive character and good driving record.

He said through his legal team he is genuinely sorry for his actions and thinks about what he has done every day.

In a family statement, Stephen's wife, Fiona Clarehugh, paid tribute to the father-of-two and grandfather-of-one who was well known in North East to flying and Microlight Communities following his time as an instructor:

It is such a bitter irony that a man who spent thousands of hours safely teaching people to fly, in an environment thought by so many to be so dangerous, should be tragically killed in a road traffic accident – so much life, ended in the blink of an eye.

Steve was a very special person to whom everyone instantly warmed. He was a larger than life character who touched so many people with his fabulous zest for life and his great sense of humour. However, if I could use one word to describe him it would be ‘mischievous’.

He did what he wanted to do and was passionate about, living life to the full – he was a self made man in the true sense of the word. He was a big man with big hands that loved his food, beer and whiskey and embraced life.

Steve’s death saddened more than a community, hundreds of sympathy cards, letters and flowers were delivered. Over 1,000 people attended his funeral, which was held in an aircraft hanger.

We will miss his humour, his loyalty, his love and his friendship, his integrity, his wisdom, his ability to do the right thing and his... mischievousness."

– Stephen's wife, Fiona Clarehugh