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Driver Charlie Willbourne 'blinded by sun' before fatal crash

Maidstone Crown Court
Maidstone Crown Court

by Julia Roberts

A young woman claimed today she was blinded by the sun as her car struck a bike and killed the cyclist.

Charlie Willbourne, 21, told officers at the scene of the accident that the low evening sun had "suddenly dazzled" her as she drove uphill along the A20 at Wrotham Hill.

Willbourne, of Hever Avenue, West Kingsdown, was at the wheel of her Hyundai i20 car when it hit Peter Stubbs' bicycle.

Maidstone Crown Court heard both were travelling in the same direction in the inside lane towards West Kingsdown just before 8pm on May 4 last year.

Father-of-two Mr Stubbs was described as an experienced cyclist and was wearing black athletic trousers, a red top and a yellow high visibility vest. He was on his way home to St Mary's Way in Longfield when the accident occurred.

Prosecutor Anthony Prosser told the jury of six men and six women that the force of the impact buckled the rear wheel of the bike. Mr Stubbs was thrown over the car before landing in the road near the verge. His cycle was also thrown into the air and lost its front wheel.

Other motorists tried to help Mr Stubbs but he was unconscious and they could not find a pulse. He died from his injuries in a London hospital.

Now heavily pregnant, Willbourne denies causing death by careless driving.

The court heard she was described as being hysterical at the scene, claiming she had not seen Mr Stubbs and would have moved further out into the road if she had.

She later admitted to police that the glare of the sun affected her visibility but she could still see the white lines in the road.

When formally interviewed two months after the fatal collision Willbourne said in a prepared statement that as she drove up the hill she accelerated into fifth gear. However, the sun glare caused her to slow down.

"As I was coming up the hill the sun went straight into my eyes, caught my eyes and blinded me," she stated. "I could not see anything at that moment and then the collision occurred."

But the prosecution allege that Willbourne, driving at 42mph in fifth gear, would have had sufficient time to see Mr Stubbs as she drove along the 530m straight stretch of road.

Mr Prosser said Willbourne's driving fell below the standard of a careful and competent motorist.

"This case is all about the proper response by a motorist to that continuing hazard of a low sun impairing visibility," he explained.

"This is not a case of a sudden dazzle followed by immediate impact. This must be a question of driving at some sufficient speed for that length of road, into the sun, but unable to see clearly the road ahead until she collided with the bicycle."

The court heard another motorist travelling the same route just a few minutes later told police the low sun made visibility "almost zero" and he had to slow down to between 5 and 10mph.

"This is a good indication of what conditions were like for any motorist driving up the hill that evening," added Mr Prosser, "and how the hazard of the low sun could be dealt with safely."

The trial continues.

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