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By Adrian Pearson firstname.lastname@example.org
THEY were a normal family on their way back from a shopping trip until Andrew Winter caused utter carnage.
The 32-year-old factory worker wiped out three lives in an instant after driving at speeds of up to 90mph and tailgating because he was in a hurry to get home from a 15-hour shift.
He lost control of his Ford Focus on the A264 and smashed head-on into an oncoming Freelander on October 15 2005.
Sisters Rebecca, 15, and Lucy Hassell, 12, were killed instantly. So was their step dad-to-be, 44-year-old Theodorius Lubbe.
The girls’ mum, Amanda Hassell, and sister Kim, 17, survived and were ushered away from the scene by fellow drivers, protecting them from witnessing the carnage within.
Yesterday (Tuesday), Winter,of Paddockhurst Road, Gossops Green, began an eight-year prison sentence after pleading guilty to three counts of causing death by dangerous driving at Lewes Crown Court.
One witness, James Rowland, who was driving a 16-seater minibus, told police Winter was driving like a “lunatic”.
“He screamed past me and whizzed past so fast that the engine was roaring. It was unbelievable seeing that speed. It was beyond fast. It was excessive,” he told the court.
Alan Kent, prosecuting, said that Mrs Hassell and her surviving daughter Kim had suffered an immense loss.
“She is utterly consumed with the grief of losing two little girls and the man she hoped to marry and spend the rest of her life with,”Mr Kent said.
“Her life and her future has been shattered as a result of the event.
“Amanda Hassell’s world fell apart because of this.
“She keeps going only for the sake of her surviving daughter.”
The court was told how Winter had worked a 15-hour shift before heading home from his factory job at Digital Global Media Solutions, near Horsham, at about 6.25pm.
He had followed work colleagues out in his black Ford Focus, but had quickly overtaken them and was tailgating one colleague at almost 70mph as they approached the A264.
Mr Kent said: “Winter quickly drove out of sight and the fatal crash happened two to three miles further down the dual carriageway.
“One witness who saw the crash said the car was swerving violently across the road ahead of her.
“She saw the car catapulted in the air as though it had been shot from a cannon.”
Winter had told paramedics who arrived at the scene he had been travelling at at least 90 mph when he clipped a curb on the central reservation and went flying into the path of the Landrover.
Mr Kent said: “I don’t propose to dwell on the unimaginable horror that met the ambulance service.
“The photos show that they had absolutely no chance, but there are perhaps two merciful aspects.
“First, that death must have been instant and second that good-thinking members of the public took the survivors away from the crash scene to stop them seeing what had happened to loved ones.”
Mr Kent described how Winter had been tailgating his colleagues prior to the crash.
He said: “At the first part of the carriageway James Earley accelerated to 70mph and he became aware of the defendant right up behind him at about 5-6 metres behind his car.He believed it was apparent that the defendant wanted to get past.”
Another colleague William Russell saw Winter driving on the carriageway.
Mr Kent said: “He believed that the defendant was tailgating James Earley travelling just a few feet away from his car.”
“Mr Kent said: “When asked (by police) why he was travelling at 90mph he said he was very tired, not overtired, but after a long day at work without anything to eat since lunch he just wanted to get home as soon as possible.”
The court was told Winter had a previous conviction for speeding when in 2004 he was caught travelling at 44mph in a 30mph zone.
Rock Tayner, defending, described Winter, who was single and had been taking anti-depressants, as a hard working person who was otherwise very responsible and accepted he was to blame.
He said: “He is deeply remorseful for what he has done for the loss of three lives.
“He is still in a state of shock. He carries now, and he will for many years, a very heavy burden for what he has done.”
Sentencing him to eight years on each count to run concurrently, Judge Richard Brown said: “This in my view was an appalling piece of driving,the consequences of which are so terrible that no words that I can use can adequately sum up the shattering impact on the family.
“This is one of the saddest cases I have ever presided over as a judge.”
Speaking after the case Inspector Chad Standard said: “I think the sentence is very appropriate.As the judge said, this will never bring them back, but I think eight years is quite adequate and I think this will act as a horrific example of what can happen to other speeding drivers.”
Speaking through Inspector Standard, Mrs Hassell said: “Whatever happens to him will never hurt like he has hurt us. When he gets out of prison his life will carry on.”