Published: 2 August, 2012
by JOSH LOEB
A LORRY driver involved in two fatal crashes could one day be allowed to drive again to the dismay of relatives of the women who were killed.
Joao Pedro Correia Lopes pleaded guilty to causing the death of Nora Gutmann, a 97-year-old war refugee from West Hampstead, who was struck by the tipper-truck he was driving in June last year. He was also at the wheel of the lorry that fatally struck cyclist Eilidh Cairns, from Kentish Town, in 2009.
Yesterday (Wednesday) His Honour Judge Matthews banned Lopes from driving for six years and sentenced him to four years in prison.
Afterwards, the families of Ms Cairns and Mrs Gutmann said their prime concern – rather than how long Lopes would spend in custody – had been that the 56-year-old should be prevented from ever driving again.
Mrs Gutmann’s grandson Nick Alexandra said: “We find the possibility that Lopes could ever drive again completely outrageous.”
He added that after Ms Cairns had died, Mr Lopes “continued driving dangerously after that, and shockingly there was no system in place to monitor this dangerous behaviour or to take him off the roads.”
In the case of Ms Cairns, who died after a collision in Notting Hill, police found no connection between her death and Mr Lopes’s driving. He was fined £200 and given three points on his licence after pleading guilty to the minor charge brought of driving with uncorrected defective vision.
But Isleworth Crown Court heard yesterday (Weds) that within two years of Ms Cairns’s death, Lopes was involved in at least three more accidents on the roads before his lorry fatally struck Ms Gutmann at a pedestrian crossing opposite Madame Tussauds in Marylebone Road.
Outside court Ms Cairns’s sister Kate said she was dismayed that there was still no national database for logging deaths and flagging up any drivers with a history of being involved in such crashes.
She said she felt there was “an ingrained perception of the guilt of cyclists, an attitude that these things just happen, which is why we campaigned for the word ‘crash’ not ‘accident’ to be used by all media, because ‘accident’ presumes that it’s nobody’s fault and it’s not preventable”.
She added that she was disappointed with the police investigation into her sister’s death.
A Met police spokesman said “a review of the evidence” had been taken but no further action was possible.
Kate said employers of heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) should be held accountable for such incidents.
She added: “I don’t know of any other industry where someone can go out to work and kill someone, or be involved in a fatal collision I should say, and for there to be no consequences for their employer.
“There is a need to review procedures. It’s fundamental to record whether a driver has been involved in a fatal collision before.”
At an earlier hearing in June, Lopes, a Portuguese national living in Stratford, pleaded guilty to the charge of causing the death of Ms Gutmann by dangerous driving as well as a second charge of causing the recording of false data relating to digital driving work records.
Prosecution lawyer Christopher Baur told the court: “The defendant had placed a powerful magnet on top of the tachograph [a device that records a vehicle’s speed and the distance it has travelled]. It was a large, round magnet attached to the sender unit and the effect was any message sent to the tachograph was being interfered with. The effect was that the lorry was shown at all times to be resting.”
The magnet would have made it impossible for anyone to find out how long Lopes had been on the road without a break and presented an incidental hazard as it caused the lorry’s automatic breaking system to be compromised, the court heard.
Mr Baur said it was unknown whether driver fatigue had played a part in the incident.
The court heard Lopes has poor eyesight and it was a condition of his licence that he should wear spectacles at all times while driving, but he had forgotten these during delivery rounds.
He was driving at four or five miles per hour when he hit Ms Gutmann but she still suffered multiple injuries.
In mitigation, Lopes’s defence lawyer Paul Lewis said there had been nothing “wanton or furious in the manner in which he was driving”, and that the defendant was remorseful.
Lopes is the head of a close-knit family, many of whom were in court.
Mr Lewis added: “He is and always has been a hard-working individual for what is as you can see a very extensive and caring family.
“The only other breadwinner in the family is his daughter. His son, 31, suffers from cerebral palsy. That can have an economic impact on what he needs to provide and there are also physical challenges that his wife is unable to meet with respect to bathing.”
Judge Matthews sentenced Lopes to four years in prison for causing death by dangerous driving and 12 months for knowingly causing false data to be recorded on recording equipment, to run concurrently.
He has already served 35 days, which will be deducted from the sentence.