Sleeping driver avoids jail after Harrogate A59 crash leaves elderly woman with 'life-changing' injuries

A pensioner who fell asleep at the wheel has been spared a prison sentence following a horror crash which resulted in devastating injuries to an elderly woman.

Tuesday, 24th December 2019, 6:28 pm

Neville Cheverton, 70, was driving a Vauxhall Astra on the A59 Harrogate-to-York road when it suddenly veered onto the opposite carriageway and smashed head-on into a Nissan Note travelling in the opposite direction. The collision left both vehicles a crumpled wreck, York Crown Court heard.

Mary Lewis, who was trapped inside the Nissan, suffered “serious, life-changing injuries” including a broken leg, a shattered left knee, five broken ribs, a punctured lung, a fractured pelvis and breastbone, and six broken vertebrae. Her husband, who was driving the Nissan, suffered broken ribs and bruising.

The accident happened on the A59.

Mrs Lewis, 72, was trapped inside the car “for some considerable time” before being cut free by emergency services and airlifted to hospital.

The elderly couple had been on a day out in York and were travelling back towards Harrogate when the crash occurred at about 5.20pm on February 20.

Mr Cheverton, who had led a hitherto-blameless life, was charged with one count of causing serious injury by dangerous driving and ultimately admitted the offence. He appeared for sentence on Monday dressed in a smart suit and tie.

Prosecutor Martin Bosomworth said Mr Cheverton “snapped awake” just before the collision but it was too late to avoid a collision.

The Astra was so far across the opposite lane it nearly hit a grass verge and momentarily veered back before hitting the Nissan full-on. Though neither of the vehicles was travelling at excessive speed, the loss of control of the Astra led to a “head-on collision at considerable speed”.

Mr Cheverton and his wife, who had been on their way back from a day out in Pateley Bridge, suffered broken ribs and bruising and were taken to hospital by ambulance.

Mrs Lewis, by far the most-severely injured, ended up in a wheelchair. She had been a “fit and active 72-year-old” before the crash but is now entirely reliant on her husband.

She said that after a “lifetime of working” and bringing up a family, she had looked forward to a “comfortable” retirement but was now unable to lead an independent life and suffered from arthritis and low self-esteem.

Mr and Mrs Lewis were due to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary at around the time of the crash.

The court heard that Mr Cheverton, of The Village, Stockton-on-the-Forest, was honest with police following the accident and told them he had fallen asleep at the wheel.

“He said he had had a disturbed sleep the night before but didn’t feel particularly tired in the morning,” said Mr Bosomworth.

The pensioner, who was on medication at the time following a cancer diagnosis, felt “drowsy” and tired on the way back from Pateley Bridge.

“He said that about 10 minutes before the accident he found himself falling off to sleep (but) he ‘slapped’ himself awake (and) took the view that rather than stopping, he would continue the journey as they were close to home,” said the prosecutor.

Defence barrister Tom Gent said Mr Cheverton was “extremely remorseful… for his mistake and the awful consequences”.

Mr Cheverton had lost control of the vehicle for only about four seconds “tried to get out of the way - tragically not successfully”, he added.

Judge Simon Hickey said that despite the “dreadful” injuries, it would be unjust to impose a prison sentence on a law-abiding man at this stage in his life.

Instead, Mr Cheverton was given a two-year community order with 40 hours’ unpaid work and was banned from driving for two years. He was also ordered to pay £85 costs and a victim surcharge of a similar amount.