Widow says wrong man punished after lorry driver jailed over fatal crash

The widow of a man who was killed when a lorry ploughed into his stranded car said the wrong person has been jailed after a truck driver was given a 10-month sentence.

Jason Mercer, 44, and Alexandru Murgeanu, 22, died when a lorry driven by Prezemyslaw Szuba, 40, cashed into their vehicles which had stopped on a stretch of the M1 without a hard shoulder.

Szuba was jailed at Sheffield Crown Court for death by careless driving.

Judge Jeremy Richardson QC said: "Had there been a hard shoulder, or had the victims driven on for another mile to the refuge, this catastrophe would never have occurred.

"There must be no doubt, however, that the main cause of this fatal crash was your inattention to the road ahead of you."

Widow Claire Mercer said she does not believe "the correct person is taking responsibility for this massive detrimental effect on ours and so many other people's lives".

She has laid the lame at the feet of Highways England, the agency in charge of operating the nation's roads.

Mrs Mercer said: "The events of June 7, 2019, would not have taken place if there had been a hard shoulder and Highways England was run with the correct priorities in mind – not concentrating on who wins the next big contract."

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Referring to a national review of smart motorways, she said: "An agenda genuinely concerned with avoiding future deaths is not served by a pretend review and 18 compromises that wouldn't have saved any of 40-plus people killed by smart motorways, or by jailing the wrong person."

The judge was told how Szuba, from Hull, was driving well within the speed limit, had not been drinking or on drugs and was not distracted by any devices when he ploughed into the vehicles just north of junction 34, near Sheffield's Meadowhall shopping centre.

The judge was shown CCTV footage of how Mr Murgeanu's Ford Transit van and Mr Mercer's Ford Focus had a minor collision on the four-lane motorway and then pulled over into lane one to inspect damage and exchange details.

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The prosecutor Jeremy Evans said Szuba was travelling at 56mph up until the very last moment before the crash and did not brake or move the vehicle.

Andrew Smith, defending, said: "The defendant has always accepted that his negligence, his lack of concentration of three, four, five seconds prior was a significant cause of this accident. But it was not the only cause.

"He simply did not see it. He should have seen it and he didn't"

Mr Smith described smart motorways as a "wholly inadequate road system", saying: "These roads are simply unsafe".

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A Highways England spokesman said: "We are deeply saddened by the deaths of Jason Mercer and Alexandru Murgeanu and extend our sympathies to both their families and friends.

"We appreciate that this continues to be an unimaginably difficult time for them and understand the strength of feeling around this case.

"Every road death is a needless loss of life and we must do all that we can to keep our roads safe."

Edmund King, AA president, said: "The judge was absolutely right to question the research undertaken to remove the hard shoulder and the distance between emergency refuge areas.

"The AA has been questioning this logic and campaigning for radical improvements for years. This tragedy and wasted loss of lives should never have happened and we extend our sympathy to the families of the two victims."

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