Published: 14:45, 07 February 2018
A woman who caused another driver’s death when a mattress fell from her car roof has been handed a suspended prison sentence.
Rebecca Miller was in the process of moving home as the double mattress was dislodged from her Peugeot 2008 SUV on the busy A229 dual carriageway at Blue Bell Hill.
The mattress landed in the outside lane and path of retired security guard Clive Mauger’s Peugeot 206, Maidstone Crown Court heard. He was unable to swerve out of the way and his car clipped the mattress, careered off the road and hit a tree.
The 69-year-old grandfather, who was travelling at about 60mph, was killed instantly.
Today, on her 40th birthday, Miller was sentenced to 10 months in prison, suspended for 18 months, and ordered to carry out 250 hours of unpaid work.
A tagged curfew from 7pm to 7am was imposed for four months.
Miller was also disqualified for two years and will have to take an extended test before her licence is returned. She was ordered to pay £1,200 within three months.
Miller, a prison officer, of Aylesford, told police she would not have driven if she had had any concerns about the load, which was held on by five “bungee” cords.
The court heard she was moving from Rochester to Aylesford to live with a friend, who had recently lost her husband, and to support her.
The judge told Miller that for a modest outlay she could have rented a van to transport her belongings or been assisted by others.
All might have been well if the mattress remained secure on the roof. The neighbour who secured it for her - an off-duty police officer - was concerned enough to ask if she had far to go.
“If he had those concerns, I am surprised he released you to travel in that way,” said Judge Julian Smith. “The application of commonsense, not merely the benefit of hindsight, I am confident, would have informed most people it was not just risky and stupid, but potentially serious in its consequences.
“Of course, the consequences here are not merely serious, they are tragic and unrecoverable.”
Miller had travelled four miles when the tragedy happened and had “a good way to go”.
The judge said the cords securing the mattress were over-stretched and inadequate for the task. The mattress lifted and was torn off the roof.
“It was a huge obstruction to the road and an obvious and immediate danger to road users,” he continued.
Two cars travelling behind were able to swerve around it before Mr Mauger collided with it about 10 seconds after it came off the roof. He lost control of his car and hit a tree.
It had a considerable impact on Miller, who afterwards drank heavily. She regretted deeply what happened.
The court heard single Miller had been given the “opportunity” to resign from her job as a prison officer.
Simon Taylor, defending, said Miller wanted to express her extreme regret that her actions had caused the loss of a life.
"No sentence or punishment can address the pain or loss suffered by Mr Mauger’s family. The sentence that must follow such a tragic event cannot be a measure of his life" - Judge Julian Smith
She had lost her job of 15 years and had been taking a correspondence course while awaiting sentence.
“This is a rare, unusual case in the sense the cause was not necessarily the driving on the road itself,” said Mr Taylor.
““She has learnt her lesson as a consequence of this action. She is very sorry for the disastrous consequences of her actions.”
The accident happened at just after 4.30pm on January 30 last year when it was light and the conditions were dry.
Mr Mauger, a dad-of-four from Chatham, and was on his way to visit a friend at the time.
Miller, who has served in the armed forces, admitted she did not check the bungee cords herself.
"She did grab the mattress and it didn't move so she thought it was fastened safely and securely," said prosecutor Richard Hearnden.
Simon Taylor, defending, said although she relied on her neighbour's help to secure the mattress, the bungee grip had failed.
Judge Smith told Miller: “There is no question of oppressive driving that puts people at risk.
"But it was a bad idea and concept - profoundly bad - and it was a bad idea compounded by the distance you drove.
“No sentence or punishment can address the pain or loss suffered by Mr Mauger’s family. The sentence that must follow such a tragic event cannot be a measure of his life.”
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