A van driver who was more than twice over the limit for cannabis when he crashed and killed his teenage apprentice has been jailed for 9 years.
Benjamin Norman, 41, told another driver at the scene: “What am I going to say to his parents?”
Luton crown court heard Norman was driving at 70mph when he lost control of the white VW van for 10 to 15 seconds and drifted across two lanes of a dual carriageway, before smashing into a parked lorry in a lay-by.
The crash happened on the A421 Bedford bypass between Cardington and Great Barford at around a quarter past seven in the morning of 1st November 2018.
Norman of Wootton, Beds was found not guilty of causing death by dangerous driving but was convicted of causing death by careless driving while over the prescribed limit for cannabis.
Sentencing had been adjourned until yesterday (7 April).
At the trial in January prosecutor Charles Ward-Jackson said: “A number of motorists stopped to offer assistance and it was quickly established that Thomas Smith had sadly died.
“A lorry driver, Richard Hull, was parked on the other side of the road and crossed to speak to the defendant.
“The defendant was shocked and said something like: ‘What am I going to say to his parents? He is only 20 years old. I can’t believe I am sat here and he is gone.”
Benjamin Norman passed a police alcohol test, but when asked to take a drug test said: “I will fail that. I had a smoke last night.”
Mr Ward-Jackson said the word smoke – referred to cannabis. He said it was the prosecution’s case that it was more likely that he had smoked cannabis that day and not just the night before.
He told a police officer: “ I have no idea what happened. I am pretty sure I was in the fast lane. I don’t know if I fell asleep or blacked out.”
Norman was taken to Bedford hospital and was found to have no internal injuries and only small scratches on his head. He was discharged as fit and taken to Kempston police station.
The prosecutor said the defendant was given a blood test at 11:50 in the morning – 13 hours after he claimed he had last smoked cannabis.
He was found to have 5.5 mg of cannabis per litre of blood – the legal limit is 2mg. When questioned by the police he made no comment.
Mr Ward-Jackson said: “Drifting from lane to lane is typical of someone driving while intoxicated by cannabis. The prosecution says the accident would not have occurred had he not smoked cannabis.
“He had consumed so much cannabis the night before, or more likely in the morning, or both that it substantially impaired his driving.”
A collision expert found that the Volvo lorry had been correctly parked, and there were no relevant defects to the van, which had its speedometer frozen at 60mph at the time of the collision.
The defence case was that Benjamin Norman had not taken cannabis that morning and lost control of the van because he was suffering from epilepsy that had not been diagnosed at that time.
A tribute from his family said Tom, as he was known, was a “very loving and caring boy.”
They said: “His death has left a massive void in our lives that will never be filled. We will always remember the good times and his cheeky smile.”
His mother Lyndsey told the judge: “ This has destroyed me as a person. I have anxiety and depression. Tom’s death drastically affected our family. We not only a family member, we have lost a best friend.”
The prosecutor at today/Thursday’s hearing Peter Shaw said: “The prosecution case says having consumed a high quantity of cannabis he could not control the vehicle. It was not far short of dangerous driving.”
He said Norman had been in the habit of smoking cannabis while driving despite the protest of the victim. On an earlier occasion, he had fallen asleep at the wheel and there had been a minor collision.
Defending, Alesdair King said since Norman had been diagnosed with epilepsy he has surrendered his driving licence.
He said: “His mother and wife say his personality has changed beyond all recognition and he is a different person.
“They say there is hardly a moment when he does not think about this and think about it with bitter regret.
“Mr Norman will live with it on his conscience. He is clear about that.
“Nothing the court can do can punish him more than he punishes himself internally.”
Sentencing him Judge Lynn Tayton QC said: “ I take the view this was careless driving falls not too far short of dangerous.
“It was aggravated by what Thomas Smith said to his mothers and other that this was not an isolated incident. You were someone who would habitually drive after consuming cannabis.”
He was banned from driving for six and a half years and must take an extended retest.
Reporting by South Beds News Agency
Edited by Paul Hutchinson for the Bedford Independent