AFTER realising he had forgotten his wallet, a pensioner sped back home for it – killing a Studley man as he ploughed into his car at up to 80mph on the wrong side of the road.
And at Warwick Crown Court Hans Wegerdt pleaded guilty to causing the death of 36-year-old Mark Smith by dangerous driving on the A4189 between Henley-in-Arden and Claverdon.
Wegerdt, 78, of St Michael’s Road, Claverdon, was jailed for two-and-a-half years and banned from driving for five years from the date of his release.
Prosecutor Jane Sarginson said that at around 7pm on October 19 last year Anna Gadie was driving her Mazda car along the unlit A4189 towards Henley-in-Arden, within the 50mph.
Travelling towards the Crab Mill pub, she could see Mr Smith’s Volvo S40 ahead of her and headlights coming towards them on the wrong side of the road.
She braked and, before coming to a halt, went through a shower of debris thrown up by the impact between Wegerdt’s oncoming Mercedes C220 Estate and Mr Smith’s Volvo.
She came to a halt and could see one car, the Volvo, across the middle of the road and another at the side of the road, so got out and, upset and quite overwrought, began to call the emergency services.
As she did so Emma Lewis was driving towards the scene, and Ms Gadie desperately gestured for her to stop, but Miss Lewis did not notice her and, in the darkness, clipped the Volvo.
She stopped, and her father who was with her took over the 999 call.
The police and paramedics arrived, but sadly Mr Smith died at the scene from multiple injuries, the most significant of which was a burst aorta, said Miss Sarginson.
Wegerdt, who was also badly injured, was taken to hospital where he was detained for several weeks.
Accident investigators established he had been driving in the direction of Claverdon on the wrong side of the road – and the speedometer on the Mercedes had frozen at around 80mph at the moment of impact.
As an indication of how far over he was, the ‘colossal force’ of the impact between the two cars was to the nearside front of each car, buckling the sub-frame of the Volvo and pushing its front nearside wheel back almost level with the driver’s door.
When he was later interviewed, Wegerdt said he had left his home in Claverdon to go to his club in Henley-in-Arden, but then realised he had forgotten his wallet, so turned round to go back for it – but could remember nothing after that.
Miss Sarginson added that Wegerdt, a German national, said he had only returned home from Germany, where he had spent many hours driving on the right, the day before the crash.
Amy Jacobs, defending, said Wegerdt was described by one friend who had written a reference as ‘a broken man’ because of what had happened.
“He wishes it was in his power to swap his own life for that of Mr Smith. He feels greatly the burden of what he’s done.
“There is nothing this court can do by way of punishment which will bring back Mr Smith or atone for what happened; but I hope to persuade Your Honour to take an exceptional course and find a way to punish him which doesn’t involve immediate custody.”
Miss Jacobs described Wegerdt as ‘a pillar of the community’ in Claverdon who had been involved with Rotary and an educational charity in South Africa.
She said he put his error down to having just returned from Germany, prompting Recorder Michael Burrows to comment: “When someone has just returned from driving abroad, isn’t it incumbent on the driver to take greater care to ensure they’re driving on the proper side of the road?”
Miss Sarginson said there was a statement from Andrew Smith, who described his brother as ‘an intelligent and brilliant young man’ who had his whole life ahead of him, but will now ‘for ever be just 36 years old.’
And he said the Redditch family’s lives had been left devastated by Mark’s death just six months after their father died from a terminal illness.
Jailing Wegerdt, Recorder Burrows told him: “This is a tragic case. Nothing I can say or do can bring back Mark Smith, or undo the damage done, or take away the pain you caused.
“For the rest of your life you will have to live with the guilty knowledge that you caused the death of a young man who was merely driving home from work, who had done nothing wrong and just happened to be in your path.
“I accept you were not deliberately driving on the wrong side of the road but, having just returned from abroad, it was all the more reason for you to take care and not be speeding.”