A habitual cannabis user who admitted causing the death of a Melton pedestrian by careless driving while being unfit through drugs has been jailed for three years.
Godfread Housen (42) appeared at Leicester Crown Court for his sentencing today (Friday, September 25) having previously pleaded guilty to causing the death of 79-year-old Melton man Brian Sheldon after driving into him on the pedestrian crossing on Saxby Road, just after 6pm on November 15, 2013.
The court heard that Mr Sheldon, who began crossing when the green man was lit, as he carried his shopping, had got about two thirds of the way across the road when he was hit by Housen’s Mitsubishi Coupe. He died in hospital the next morning having suffered injuries to his head and pelvis.
Prosecutor Ben Isaacs said when Housen was medically tested in respect of driving impairment, about five hours after the fatal collision, he had 3.8 nanograms of cannabis per millilitre in his blood - nearly twice the legal limit of 2 nanograms
He said: “When the defendant was tested his eyes were reddened and bloodshot. He said he’d got dust in his eyes. He couldn’t follow instructions when he was tested and he missed the tip of his nose with his finger three out of six times.”
Another test, where Housen was asked to stand and indicate when 30 seconds had passed, showed that his ‘internal clock’ was also delayed, with Housen stopping at 45 seconds.
Mr Isaacs added: “The defendant was impaired five hours after the incident so he would have been even more impaired at the time of the collision.”
The court also heard that witnesses at the collision scene thought Housen’s Mitsubishi was going too fast as it approached the crossing.
Mr Isaacs said: “At the moment of impact the speed of the defendant’s vehicle, which was already braking, was about 37.5mph. The limit is 30mph.
“The defendant accelerated before he reached the crossing, The traffic light is likely to have been on green as he drove through the crossing though Mr Sheldon may have already begun to cross, slowly, while the green man was lit in his favour.”
Tim Bowden, defending, said: “Mr Housen is acutely aware there’s nothing he can do or that I can say on his behalf that can comfort Mr Sheldon’s family and friends or lessen their pain. He re-lives this tragedy every day and will continue to do so for the rest of his life.
“His driving can’t be described as momentary inattention, it was for five seconds or so. He was going over the speed limit and accelerated too quickly to that speed as he approached the junction.
“He still struggles to make sense of what happened and the accident. He saw the green light and assumed it was safe for him to proceed but hadn’t paid attention that someone may have been crossing the road.”
Mr Bowden said that Housen, of Doctors Lane, habitually used cannabis and that the drug was ‘ingrained in his upbringing and culture.’
But he added: “This isn’t someone who has spent an evening consuming cannabis with friends, as part of a drug habit, and then got into a car stoned. This is a case of a much lower level in terms of consumption.
“I accept the reading of 3.8 nanograms must have been somewhat higher at the time of the accident but you can’t calculate it with any degree of confidence. If it was above 5 nanograms then it wouldn’t have been much above it.”
Mr Bowden also claimed that, in terms of Housen’s assessed level of impairment, that the effects of shock and stress would have had a bearing on the results of the tests, adding that he managed to completed other tasks.
Judge Robert Brown was also made aware of four references received from people who know Housen. Mr Bowden said: “He is a man who is well thought of by family and friends. He is dedicated to his family and providing support to his son. He is a hard-working man who has built up his mechanics business over 12 years, providing a service to the community.
“He has also been involved in raising money for playground equipment, organised a remembrance service last year and has worked on renovating the war memorial.”
Family and friends of both Mr Sheldon and Housen were in court today, nearly two years since the tragedy.
Mr Sheldon, who lived in Bishop Street, was described by friends and family as a ‘loving, caring and generous’ person who was ‘outgoing with a great sense of humour.’
He was well known in Melton, being a member of the Melton Royal British Legion and an ex-member of the Melton Conservative Club, and he was really proud of his grandson, Ben, who used to visit him every month.
Mr Sheldon’s son, Robert, who lives in Great Barr, Birmingham, said his father’s death had had a ‘very damaging impact’ on his family and friends.
Sentencing Housen to three years in jail, Judge Brown told him: “Mr Sheldon walked sometimes with a walking stick, sometimes without. He was walking without his stick on this occasion with his shopping bags and was crossing the road at the designated crossing.
“He was crossing the road in a normal, lawful manner and was in no way responsible for the collision that occurred. He was crossing while carrying his shopping and would have been walking much slower than other pedestrians. He didn’t quite reach the safety of the other side of the road.
“The traffic lights had turned green and you accelerated, unaware of Mr Sheldon. Your speed at the time of impact was at least 37.5mph. You broke and skidded just before the collision which means your speed is likely to have been higher than 37.5mph. The speed limit is 30mph.
“You failed to check the road was clear. It’s not sufficient to assume that because there’s a green light in your favour the road is clear. Slower pedestrians need to be considered and drivers must be aware the road is clear. This was not simply momentary inattention, your driving was worse than that.”
He added: “Furthermore you had taken cannabis and you admit to being a habitual user of cannabis. Nearly five hours after driving your level of cannabis was still nearly double the legal limit.
“You claim you last took cannabis about six hours before the collision but, though it’s not possible to be precise about how soon before the driving you took the cannabis, it’s likely you took cannabis later than you admit, maybe between 3pm and 5pm according to the prosecution experts.
“I accept you are remorseful but driving with unlawful drugs in the blood is as bad as driving with alcohol in one’s blood. It reduces a driver’s ability to control a vehicle and increases the risk to other road users.”
As well as his three-year prison term Housen was banned from driving for three years and told he must take an extended re-test before he can drive again.
Addressing Mr Sheldon’s son, Robert, and grandson, Ben, who were both in court, Judge Brown said: “I hope you understand the sentence I pass today is in no way a measure of Mr Sheldon’s life. There’s no sentence that can ever achieve such a thing. Every life is priceless.
“I hope for the sake of his family and friends that they can complete their grieving now that proceedings have concluded.”
Speaking to the Melton Times after the sentencing Mr Sheldon’s son, Robert, said: “I can still see him in the hospital bed. It helps a bit knowing the person responsible has been sent to prison. Not only has he got to live with it, so have we.”
Also commenting after the sentencing detective constable Kath Orr, who investigated the collision, said: “Housen got behind the wheel knowing his driving would be impaired after consuming drugs. He not only risked his own life but the lives of other road users.
“Mr Sheldon was an innocent pedestrian who was walking to his friend’s house for an evening meal when he was struck by Housen’s car.
“We continue to warn motorists about the dangers of driving while being under the influence of drink or drugs. This case truly demonstrates the devastating affect it can have on a family and on those who witnessed the incident or saw its aftermath.”