The family of a man who died in a road traffic collision last year have described the actions of the Claverdon pensioner who caused his death as “reckless and indefensible”.
And a judge at Warwick Crown Court in Leamington has said that 36-year-old Mark Smith (pictured), of Studley, was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time when he was killed while driving home from work in October 2015.
During the case Hans Wegerdt, 78 of St Michael’s Road, had pleaded guilty to causing death by dangerous driving on the A4189 between Henley-in-Arden and Claverdon.
Wegerdt was jailed for two-and-a-half years and banned from driving for five years from the date of his release.
Mr Smith’s family have said: “Mark is a much loved and missed son, brother and uncle.
“He was a kind and gentle man who lost his life due to reckless and indefensible actions of Hans Wegerdt.
“Mark will be forever 36-years-old.
“Our hearts go out to the people who came across the accident after it had happened as their lives, like ours, will have been changed forever by the reckless actions of one man.”
Wegerdt had been driving his Mercedes 220 estate at 80mph on the wrong side of the road on the A4189 between Henley-in-Arden and Claverdon when he ploughed into Mr Smith’s Volvo.
Anna Gadie, who was driving behind Mr Smith’s Volvo and could see the headlights of Wegerdt’s car coming towards them on that side of the road.
She thought her Mazda had been struck when she drove through the shower of debris caused by the collision.
Ms Gadie pulled over and started to make a 999 call only to see Emma Lewis driving towards the scene and clip Mr Smith’s car, which was across the middle of the road.
Prosecutor Jane Sarginson said that 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.
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 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.
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?”
Following a short adjournment, 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 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.
“I am very conscious it is the families, particularly the family of Mark Smith, who bear the brunt of the pain. The sentence I pass is no reflection on the value of his life.
“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.”