Driver, 87, who mistook accelerator for brakes, dies 9 days after being jailed for killing woman
World / 30 December 2019, 09:12am / CLAIRE DUFFIN AND JAKE HURFURT
London - An elderly motorist sent to prison for killing a woman when he mistook the accelerator for the brake has died just nine days after starting his sentence.
William Heagren, 87, was jailed for more than two years after admitting causing death by dangerous driving.
He had reversed his Ford Fusion at speed as he tried to park in a Sainsbury’s car park, smashing into Jeanette Newman, 64, and her friend Sarah Taylor, 53.
Miss Newman suffered serious head injuries and died the next day while Mrs Taylor was left with life-changing injuries. The crash came minutes after Heagren had bumped his car on a bollard, which left him ‘raging’ with himself for ‘being a bloody fool’, a court was told.
Heagren, of Harrow, north-west London, who attended court using a walking frame, was sent to prison on December 5 but died on December 14. It is understood that he had a heart attack at Wormwood Scrubs Prison in west London.
His barrister, David Wood, had asked a judge to suspend the pensioner’s sentence, saying Heagren had a broken hip and was ‘at a stage in his life when even a minor fall could kill him’.
He pointed to medical evidence from a GP which said ‘incarceration in a new environment could result in hospital admission for a life-threatening illness’. But Judge Lana Wood said he must go straight to prison. Miss Newman’s partner, Andrew Roberts, 58, who has been fighting for a compulsory practical test for all drivers when they turn 70, said police had told him of Heagren’s death.
He said yesterday: ‘There are no winners in this situation. I said at the time he was jailed that he may not come out of prison, but I was still surprised by the news. I am a broken man since Jeanette was so violently taken away.’
In May last year Heagren’s wife, Marie, drove the couple to the supermarket in South Ruislip, west London to buy a present, Harrow Crown Court heard.
CCTV footage showed Mrs Heagren get out of the car leaving her husband to park it, but he collided with a bollard.
Heagren then reversed the automatic vehicle at maximum reverse speed – 19mph – narrowly missing a father who had to pull his children out of the way.
His car then hit Miss Newman and Mrs Taylor, carrying them towards a bollard, which stopped the car after it had travelled around 100ft.
Miss Newman suffered skull, facial and rib fractures as well as a punctured lung and a blood clot on the brain. Mrs Taylor sustained prolapsed discs and a hip injury and now has hearing and swallowing problems. She also suffered a stroke linked to the accident.
A collision investigator said the accident was a result of driver error and was ‘a classic case of pedal confusion’.
Mr Wood, in mitigation, said Heagren was a ‘thoroughly decent man’ who has been ‘crushed’ by what happened.
But the judge said: ‘Although the conditions he faces are serious, the GP letter doesn’t amount in itself to exceptional reasons. This case has caused me anxiety. It is not a sentence that I give lightly or that I would voluntarily wish to impose. However, in my judgement it is the shortest sentence I can impose.’
Heagren, who also admitted causing serious injury by dangerous driving, was jailed for 27 months.
Currently, motorists who turn 70 must fill in a form sent by the DVLA to renew their licence for three years.
Mr Roberts wrote to Boris Johnson, his local MP, in the summer about mandatory practical tests for all drivers when they reach 70, but Mr Johnson said: ‘The Government does not have plans to alter the rules.’