An ambulance driver has been jailed after the 76-year-old patient he was transporting died in a "nearly head-on" collision with an oncoming van.
Emrys Roberts, 61, had looked "vacant" moments before the collision and admitted to "waking up" afterwards, Caernarfon Crown Court heard.The elderly patient, Janet Winspear, had not been properly strapped in properly as the court heard "common practice" not to use a shoulder harness.
The judge, Recorder John Philpotts, said that a head-on collision was "the stuff of motoring nightmares" and this collision was "very nearly head-on" when the ambulance is said to have moved into the opposite lane. The court heard Mrs Winspear's "greatest fear" was road accidents after she lost her brother in a motorbike accident. A consultant neurologist told the court he could not explain why Roberts, who worked for the Welsh Ambulance Services NHS Trust, had left his lane.
Roberts and a colleague had collected Mrs Winspear, who was recovering from a stroke, from Ysbyty Gwynedd, Bangor and were transporting her to Dolgellau Hospital when the crash happened on the A470 at around midday on 8 April 2021.
James Coutts, prosecuting, said Roberts had helped strap Mrs Winspear in using leg, hip and chest straps.
However, he colleague Cai Roberts had not additionally used the three-point, over-the-shoulder harness - as they had been trained to do.Emrys Roberts had been driving and Cai Roberts was with Mrs Winspear, who was on a stretcher in the back of the vehicle, the court heard.
Another driver, Dean Davies, had been heading north out of Dolgellau in an Iveco tipper van.Mr Coutts said Mr Davies saw the ambulance enter his lane and that he thought he would correct his path. But, in a statement, Mr Davies said: "The defendant's eyes appeared wide open. He was looking straight ahead with a vacant look."The ambulance and Iveco van collided nearly head-on, with the van being pushed back more than 12 metres and turning it 45 degrees. Mr Coutts said: "Sadly as a result of the collision Mrs Winspear became free of her securing straps and was found in a prone position in the rear with traumatic injuries." Paramedics arrived but she died on the way to Ysbyty Gwynedd. The court heard Roberts said later: "I was driving along one minute and I woke up having had a collision."
Emrys Roberts suffered rib fractures and Mr Davies sustained a fractured sternum, the court heard. Experts could provide no explanation or reason for Roberts' driving.Mr Coutts said the Welsh Ambulance Service NHS Trust has re-issued guidance - with a "red warning mark" - to staff to use over-the shoulder harnesses.
In a statement, Michael Winspear, 49, one of Mrs Winspear's three sons, said that 9 June would have been her 56th wedding anniversary.He said his mother had been recovering from a stroke and that her death remains a "great shock", adding that she died in such a "cruel way".
Mr Winspear said his father had wanted answers but had died on 24 June last year without receiving them. Emrys Roberts, of Llys Adda, Bangor, pleaded guilty to causing death by careless driving.
Richard Edwards, mitigating, said his client was initially involved in strapping in Mrs Winspear but it was a "working practice" not to use the over-the-shoulder harness.Roberts has no recollection of the collision and a consultant neurologist had been unable to help, Mr Edwards said.The court heard the widower and father-of-two is remorseful and accepts his fate is "insignificant" compared with that of Mrs Winspear and her family.
Mr Edwards said Roberts had not talked about the accident, out of respect for the victims, but he would have to process it eventually and it will come "crashing down".He had an "unblemished" record as a firefighter between 1984 and his retirement in 2018. In 1992 he received a commendation for his part in the attempted rescue of a family-of-five from a house fire.He had also cared for his terminally-ill wife until her death in 2019.
Recorder Philpotts, told Roberts a head-on collision was the "stuff of motoring nightmares" and this incident "comes close to that situation".He added: "It was common practice not to use the shoulder harness but that does not make the error any less serious."Sentencing Roberts to eight months in prison, Recorder Philpotts said: "It's a tragedy primarily for Mrs Winspear's family but also, to a lesser extent, for you." He also imposed a 16-month driving ban.