A man has been sentenced for causing death by careless driving following a crash that killed two generations of the same family.Denise Hughes, 79, and her granddaughter Justine Hughes, 30, were both killed in July last year in a collision in the village of Fochriw in the Caerphilly borough.
Rhys Miles, aged 23, of Penpedairheol, was sentenced at Cardiff Crown Court on Monday after pleading guilty to causing death by careless driving.
Judge Jeremy Jenkins described the case as one of the "saddest and most tragic" he had heard as members of the Hughes' family gave impact statements and a letter read on behalf of Miles said he wished it had been him killed in the crash.
Miles was the driver of a white Ford Ranger, which collided with a blue Citroen C3 in Fochriw Road, Fochriw, on Tuesday 19 July 2022.
The driver and a passenger of the blue Citroen, Denise Hughes and Justine Hughes, were pronounced dead at the scene.
A report by Clive Lewis, who had been driving behind Ms Hughes and witnessed the crash, said he saw the passenger-side wheels of Miles' car driving on the grass verge of the road "kicking up dust and debris" as he was going around a bend in the road.
The court heard the back of the car then went "bouncing as if it had hit something" and sent the vehicle "swerving violently" onto the other side of the road into the path of Ms Hughes' car. The cars collided and Ms Hughes' car ended up on its side with Miles' on its roof.
The court heard a number of victim personal statements from the Hughes family, including from Justine's sister Helen, who said Justine was "always her go-to person and someone [she] sought comfort in".Helen described how she and other relatives had to go to the school where Justine's nine-year-old daughter was and tell her that her mum had died. She said the girl had been extremely close to her mother and recounted how Justine would trade kisses with her daughter, pretended to give her her heart in her hand, and always promised her she would pick her up from school. Helen remembered telling her niece, "mummy is now a star in the sky", to which the nine-year-old replied: "But she promised she would pick me up."Justine's sister said she hoped Miles "realises the extent of the damage he has caused". She added: "I have tried to hate him but like me he also has a family and a past. I cannot hate him but I wish him to make the right decisions going forward." She said she wished Miles a "meaningful life" but to "remember the two lives that have been lost because of him".
An investigation report into the crash heard conditions had been dry that day and that there were no obstructions or issues with the road that would have caused any incidents.
The court heard Miles had been driving at around 56mph, lower than the 60mph limit on the road and less than the maximum estimated speed of 69mph that it would have been possible to navigate the bend at.
A report into the condition of Miles' Ford Ranger also found no evidence of any issues with the car.
Although he said he could not recall the entirety of the incident, Miles said he had not had any issues or distractions and could not explain why his car had swerved, adding that he used that road "four or five times a month".
John Ryan, defending, said there had been no evidence provided of unsafe driving and that the only reasonable explanation for Miles losing control of his car was a "momentary lapse of concentration."
Mr Ryan read out a letter on behalf of Miles, in which Miles said he "cannot comprehend" the grief of the Hughes' family and added: "I wish I was able to provide you with some explanation of why I lost control of the vehicle. I'm so sorry but I can't remember." He said it had been an "error of judgment" which would "remain with me for the rest of my life", adding: "I wish it had been me."The family of Denise and Justine Hughes said they "cannot begin to express" the heartache they have felt since the pair were killed.
A statement from the family reads: “In Denise we lost a wife, a mam, a grandmother, a great-grandmother, a woman who was the head of our family.
“In Justine we lost a daughter, a sister, a niece and a granddaughter, but what is even more heart-breaking is her two beautiful children lost their mam.
“They will both miss so much by not being here and we will love and think about them every day.
“We know that no sentence would ever be able to compensate us as a family for the loss we have experienced but at least now with the judge’s ruling today, we have some closure on this chapter.
The family thanked members of the public who stopped to help and the emergency services, as well as the police who had worked to bring the case to court and supported the family throughout.
PS Shane Draper from the Serious Collision Investigation team called the case a "tragic" one and said the loss of two lives and the impact on the life of a young boy was "needless".
He also praised the "considerable strength" of the family of Denise and Justine Hughes.
“Denise and Justine Hughes tragically lost their lives due to the irresponsible actions of Rhys Miles, who drove carelessly, and lost control of his vehicle," Mr Draper said.
“I hope this sentence serves as a reminder to everyone who gets behind the wheel – your responsibility isn’t just to ensure your own safety, but the safety of everyone around you.”Judge Jeremy Jenkins accepted that the defendant was a "fine, upstanding, and respectful man" who had also been impacted by the incident and that it had been a "momentary lapse of concentration".He said: "An immediate custodial sentence is not necessary. It will not serve as any form of deterrent because, save for a momentary lapse of judgement, there is nothing in this case to deter."
Miles pleaded guilty to two counts of causing death by careless driving and received a 30-week sentence, suspended for 15 months, and is disqualified from driving for two years.