Car driver who killed horses had been drinking vodka, Carlisle court told
Published at 11:07, Tuesday, 19 July 2011
A driver who killed two horses and injured their riders when he ploughed into them on a Cumbrian road had been drinking vodka the night before to help him sleep.
Harold Birtwhistle – who was found to be two and a half times the drink-drive limit – was heading for Keswick when he left the M6 at Shap.
But when he reached the bridge at the end of the slip road, instead of stopping at a give way line, he drove straight into the animals and their riders who were side by side.
All four were sent “flying into the air”, Carlisle Magistrates’ Court heard.
The horses suffered horrific injuries and were killed at the scene. The two riders, Carl Bevan and Ellen Dodd, suffered broken bones and bruising.
Miss Dodd described the “horrific” scene seconds after the accident when she was thrown from her 22-year-old horse Mo, landing on the bonnet of Birtwhistle’s Jaguar X-type car.
She was distraught to discover Mo, who took the brunt of the impact, had been killed. Mr Bevan was lying face down and his horse Ollie was also dead.
Businessman Birtwhistle, 70, of Rectory Lane in Standish, near Wigan, pleaded guilty to a charge of driving after consuming excess alcohol and driving without due care and attention.
Prosecutor Adrienne Harris told the court that minutes before the accident witnesses saw Birtwhistle near the Tebay junction on the M6 “veering” across lanes and driving along the hard shoulder.
She said: “As he approached junction 39 he was in the middle lane and he cut across in front of a HGV to exit at the last minute.”
As he left the exit, the two riders and their horses where trotting across the bridge interchange on their way to the A6.
Miss Dodd and Mr Bevan had been out riding on the morning of July 1 this year, as they so often did.
After the smash, Birtwhistle’s breath/alcohol reading was given as 88 – the legal limit being 35.
In a statement to police, Miss Dodd said the images of what happened that day still haunted her. “To fail to see two big horses is just horrendous,” she said.
Birtwhistle’s defence solicitor Paul Williams said that he had fallen out with his partner the night before and had drank half a bottle of vodka and cola to help him sleep.
In interview, Birtwhistle said he “came off the motorway too fast” but could not remember swerving on the road. He added: “I am very, very sorry.”
Mr Wilson described his client as a family man, of good character with no previous convictions. He described the offences as a “one-off incident”.
District Judge Gerald Chalk told Birtwhistle he had caused a “greatly serious road traffic accident with appalling consequences”.
He described Birtwhistle’s actions as “remarkably foolish” and disqualified him from driving for two years, fining him £600 for the drink driving offence and £300 for careless driving.
Published by http://www.newsandstar.co.uk
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