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Prison “almost inevitable” for van driver who knocked and killed GB triathlete riding time trial

The driver thought the sound of the crash was just parcels falling down, and told police he “misjudged” the overtake

A van driver who knocked down and killed Team GB triathlete Rebecca Comins who was riding a time trial, and later told the police that he “misjudged” the overtake, has been found guilty by court, with the judge saying that a prison sentence is “almost inevitable”.

Comins, who was a member of the Dragon Tri Club, Newport Phoenix Cycling Club and Caldicot Running Club, represented the Great Britain Age Group Team at the European Triathlon Championships in Estonia in 2018, as well as at the World Triathlon Championships in Switzerland in 2019.

She was taking part in a time trial road race organised by the Monmouthshire Wheelers on the A40 near Raglan, Monmouthshire, when she was struck by a Vauxhall Movano van driven by Vasile Barbu from Abergavenny on 2 June 2022. Comins was “thrown into the air” off her bike and died after suffering blunt chest injuries.

At the trial, Barbu, 49, denied causing death by dangerous driving, but admitted causing death due to careless driving. He claimed that he saw the victim due to a red flashing light on the rear of her bike had given Mrs Comins a gap to pass her, but could not explain why he hit her.

The Cardiff Crown Court also heard that Barbu had an empty lane of a dual carriageway he could have used to avoid the collision but instead went straight into the back of her, Wales Online reports.

> Driver arrested after GB triathlete killed while riding time trial in Wales

A subsequent investigation conducted by a forensic collision investigator concluded Mrs Comins would have been visible for at least 500 metres prior to impact. The cyclist was half a metre from the edge of the road, and the outside lane was clear to allow for the defendant to pass her without issue, the court heard.

Fellow cyclist Tim Radley was behind Mrs Comins and recalled being “buzzed” by Barbu’s van as it passed by him. He said the defendant was not travelling at excessive speed but was “excessively close”, which left him concerned it would cause his bike to wobble.

Two miles down the road, he saw Barbu’s van had stopped in the carriageway and there was debris in the road. Another driver also saw the collision in his rear view mirror having passed Mrs Comins. He said he saw that Barbu hit Comin, which caused her to be thrown off to the left onto the grass verge.

Attempts were made by passers-by to help Mrs Comins until the arrival of the emergency services but despite their best efforts, the cyclist died at the scene as a result of her injuries. Barbu, who remained at the roadside, spoke to police and appeared upset. He tested negative for alcohol and drugs, and his eyesight was found to be fine.

Barbu had an empty lane of a dual carriageway he could have used to avoid the collision but instead went straight into the back of her, Cardiff Crown Court heard.

Prosecutor James Wilson said: “He told police he made his manoeuvre to pass and used his hands to indicate to police he made a gliding movement past her.

“He said he then heard a knock. He told police ‘I don’t think I hit her’ but he stopped because he thought a parcel had moved in the back of his fully loaded van. He said when he stopped he could not see anything in the back but he saw damage to the headlight then he saw the cyclist on the ground and the damaged bike.”

“Rebecca Comins was there to be seen. Visibility was good, she was cycling with a bright rear light so was clearly obvious to other witnesses. Her presence on that road was not unexpected.

“Barbu would have seen the road signs for the cycling event taking place and would have passed other similar cyclists before he reached Mrs Comins. She was cycling in a proper manner and correctly positioned on the road. She was on a long, straight stretch of road with plenty of time for him to see her.

“This was not a momentary misjudgement or lack of concentration. From the road and the weather conditions and how conspicuous she would have been, the defendant’s failure to avoid colliding into the back of Mrs Comins was a gross, catastrophic failure which amounted to dangerous driving.

“His dangerous driving caused the death of Mrs Comins.”

> Red-light jumping truck driver already disqualified from driving imprisoned for 21 months for severely injuring elderly cyclist

The defendant’s lawyer asked the jury to put emotion to one side and to consider the evidence dispassionately. He said Barbu had “safely” passed half a dozen other cyclists taking part in the road race before encountering Mrs Comins and said there had been no concerns about the standard of his driving at that stage — despite the comments made by fellow time trialist Tim Radley.

He added: “Mr Barbu's case is that he went to go around the bike but for some reason misguided it. He accepts he has done wrong - it is a burden he will have to live with for the rest of his life.”

Barbu has been granted bail until sentencing on 5 July, with Judge Shomon Khan telling the driver: “Prison is almost inevitable.”

Comins, mother of two, was described by her family as “incredibly kind and an inspiration to so many”.

> Lorry driver who killed Davide Rebellin arrested in Germany – almost seven months after retired classics star’s death

At the time of her death, Welsh Triathlon also paid tribute to her following her death, saying: “Becky was a fierce competitor, but with it had a positivity and energy that was infectious.

“The current Vintage Veteran Champion of the Welsh Triathlon Super Series, a title which she also won in 2019, Becky was due to compete in a Welsh tri-suit at the British Championships this weekend at WTS Leeds as part of Tîm Tri Cymru along with her son George. She was also looking forward to racing at the British Sprint Championships in Cardiff.

“She loved the sport; she loved the training and Becky was central to any social activities across her clubs.”

Two weeks ago, an uninsured hit-and-run driver who only held a provisional driving licence was sentenced to 12 years in prison for causing two deaths by dangerous driving, a father and son out cycling when they were fatally hit by the driver who police say showed a “lack of respect and remorse” in initially walking over to the critically injured cyclists before getting back in his badly damaged car and fleeing the scene, causing a second collision a short time later.

Earlier this year, a truck driver who was already disqualified from driving at the time and previously had 33 other convictions, including traffic offences such as drink driving was sentenced to 21 months in prison and disqualified again for five years after he jumped a red light and hit an elderly Dublin cyclist, leaving her with life-changing injuries.

Adwitiya joined road.cc in 2023 as a news writer after graduating with a masters in journalism from Cardiff University. His dissertation focused on active travel, which soon threw him into the deep end of covering everything related to the two-wheeled tool, and now cycling is as big a part of his life as guitars and football. He has previously covered local and national politics for Voice Wales, and also likes to writes about science, tech and the environment, if he can find the time. Living right next to the Taff trail in the Welsh capital, you can find him trying to tackle the brutal climbs in the valleys.

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44 comments

Avatar
capedcrusader | 1 month ago
1 like

Also, when the time trials are on they put several signs warning drivers that cyclists will be on the road. Every time I've been on this particular road at the same time as the cyclists every rider has had a red blinker. I've always used the right handside lane, because it's a remarkable quiet road for most of the time, plus it's never pleasant being passed at high speed so the further away the better. 

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Velo-drone | 1 month ago
7 likes

So, to recap:

- guilty of death by dangerous driving
- cyclist was visible at least 1/2 km away
- driver was already aware of multiple cyclists on the road
- driver had already close passed at least one of them
- driver had, but chose not to use, an entire empty lane of dual carriageway to pass
- despite all of above, driver still claims to not know how they hit the cyclist - or even to have realised when they did

Judge's conclusion: Well, I can see my way to the possibility of no jail sentence here

Wtf!??

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HoarseMann replied to Velo-drone | 1 month ago
2 likes

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-68536845
"According to figures from the Ministry of Justice, the prison population stood at 88,220 as of 8 March. Operational capacity is just over 89,000."

Prisons are full, so there is a lot of pressure on the judiciary to consider non-custodial sentences. Hopefully in this case it is merely considered, given the seriousness of the crime.

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Tom_77 replied to Velo-drone | 1 month ago
2 likes

https://www.sentencingcouncil.org.uk/offences/crown-court/item/causing-d...

2 years is the shortest sentence possible (without credit for pleading guilty) for causing death by dangerous driving, 2 years is the longest sentence that can be suspended. If you don't plead guilty it ought to be almost impossible to avoid jail.

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karlssberg | 1 month ago
9 likes

IMO Either he was deliberately close passing so he could indulge himself in some anti-cyclig schadenfreude (but it went wrong), or he was distracted by something in the vehicle and saw her at the last moment.

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Rome73 replied to karlssberg | 1 month ago
4 likes

I think so too. 

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Smoggysteve replied to karlssberg | 1 month ago
7 likes

The latter seems less likely since he did a similar thing to the other cyclist behind her. This seems more like he wanted to intimidate/ scare/ harass etc. 

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Secret_squirrel replied to Smoggysteve | 1 month ago
2 likes

Seems more likely the latter rather than the former.  Occams razor suggests the simplest and most likely explanation is usually the best.

There are far more distracted & poor drivers than actively hostile ones.  Lets not invent trouble eh?

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wtjs replied to Secret_squirrel | 1 month ago
4 likes

Occams razor suggests the simplest and most likely explanation is usually the best... Lets not invent trouble eh?

No it doesn't, because it's being deployed in the wrong context- one where there's no evidence about the driver's behaviour in the period just before he killed her. We do have some evidence, and the only way to discount it is if you say 'but that's just from another cyclist lying about the offender coming too close to him as well'. The driver invented death for his unfortunate victim.

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stonojnr replied to Secret_squirrel | 1 month ago
1 like

Doesn't have to be either of those though, the simplest explanation is like most drivers they just thought they'd given enough room, and simply arent conditioned to give cyclists the extra space even when it's there.

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ROOTminus1 replied to stonojnr | 1 month ago
5 likes
stonojnr wrote:

Doesn't have to be either of those though, the simplest explanation is like most drivers they just thought they'd given enough room, and simply arent conditioned to give cyclists the extra space even when it's there.

If she'd been side-swiped as the van driver pulled back in from a poor overtake, your point might have credence, but the fact the impact was with the front of the vehicle shows he wasn't looking.

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Rendel Harris replied to Secret_squirrel | 1 month ago
4 likes

Secret_squirrel wrote:

Seems more likely the latter rather than the former.  Occams razor suggests the simplest and most likely explanation is usually the best.

There are far more distracted & poor drivers than actively hostile ones.  Lets not invent trouble eh?

Equally, let's not ignore the fact that some drivers do enjoy buzzing cyclists for a laugh, a number of times I've been close passed on country roads and Mrs H or other riding companions who were behind have said that the car was in the middle of the road on approach and the driver quite blatantly moved over to skim close as they passed me and then moved out again.

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Smoggysteve replied to Secret_squirrel | 1 month ago
5 likes

You're forgetting that he was found guilty of death by dangerous driving. Not the death by careless that his lawyer tried to have it downgraded to. 
 

careless - not paying attention , being distracted etc

Dangerous - driving in a way that endangers the safety of other road users in a deliberate or malicious way. 
 

The experts no doubt used, including the police would have known a damn sight more than anyone on here. Yes, myself included. But for a jury to find the driver guilty of death by dangerous is rare due it's difficulty proving. There must have been a shed load of evidence to suggest he was. 

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HoarseMann | 1 month ago
12 likes

Another from the Wales Online article:

Quote:

The barrister said the reality was that though they should not, people do drive too close to cyclists, adding if they were all charged with dangerous driving every time it happened the next government would have to build new courts to accommodate the large number of cases.

roads would be safer?

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mctrials23 replied to HoarseMann | 1 month ago
6 likes

In other words "this could be you sitting here one day and you wouldn't convict yourself would you". Just a tragic accident that no one is really to blame for eh. 

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chrisonabike replied to HoarseMann | 1 month ago
6 likes

Does this defence / mitigation get used in drugs cases or rape/sexual assault cases?  "Your honour, in law my client is guilty, but we all know those who do it..."

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Velo-drone replied to HoarseMann | 1 month ago
6 likes

Just typical barrister BS. He's appealing to the possibility that some jury members (or the judge) might close pass cyclists and decide that that's what this was and so they don't want to find him guilty/impose a harsh sentence, since that would mean admitting to themselves that they drive dangerously and could easily kill someone too.

If they'd had a case where it was clear that it was a close pass rather than rear impact, they might well have found some sympathy from jury/judge on that basis (and quite possibly has done before)

Quite obviously, if every close pass were prosecuted then close passes would quickly become extremely rare events.

See for reference: average speed camera motorway sections.

Drivers know enforcement is a near certainty = extremely high level of compliance from drivers ...

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HoarseMann | 1 month ago
9 likes

From the Wales Online article:

Quote:

The 49-year-old defendant exercised his right not to give evidence at the trial but in his closing speech his barrister Tim Pole asked the jury to put emotion to one side and to consider the evidence dispassionately. He invited the jurors to consider the context of the incident - slow-moving cyclists taking part in a race and vehicles travelling at motorway speeds on the dual carriageway - and told them it was their job to assess the standard of the defendant's driving, not the consequences of that driving.

A van doing motorway speeds on a dual carriageway is breaking the speed limit.

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rct replied to HoarseMann | 1 month ago
0 likes

Dual carrigeways and motorways both have the same national speed limit, unless otherwise indicated.

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mark1a replied to rct | 1 month ago
7 likes

rct wrote:

Dual carrigeways and motorways both have the same national speed limit, unless otherwise indicated.

Not for a van they don't. 

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quiff replied to mark1a | 1 month ago
6 likes

Yep - https://www.gov.uk/speed-limits

I have to admit I was oblivious to this when I've hired vans in the past (but ignorance no defence).   

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giff77 replied to rct | 1 month ago
3 likes

You also have restrictions regarding type of vehicle and weight. If this individual was driving a large transit then he would be restricted to 60mph rather than 70mph. I hired a large transit the other year and the hire company had stickers in the cabin highlighting my speed limits. It amazes me when you see drivers of car derived vans weighing over 2tonnes hammering up the motorway in excess of 60mph. 

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IanMK replied to HoarseMann | 1 month ago
4 likes

Last year I hired a VW transporter camper van. I realised that I hadn't asked the weight. I decided to stick to the restricted speed limits. The number of other vans and trucks that overtook me at speed like the drivers were oblivious to the restrictions. Perhaps TVP could put something on Twitter 😉

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wtjs | 1 month ago
6 likes

 it is a burden he will have to live with for the rest of his life

They never tire of this pathetic 'villain as victim' dodge, do they?

He said Barbu had “safely” passed half a dozen other cyclists taking part in the road race before encountering Mrs Comins

This is a popular dodge with the police. Back in 2019, when I was still at the stage of incredulously learning the lengths to which the police will go to excuse driving offences, I sent in a video of a double white line crossing offence to the police. This was before the days of OpSnap Lancs, and before the days when they moved over to not responding in any way. It wasn't this CMax one- it was earlier in the year, but I didn't put it on upRide because my speed was only 16 kph- otherwise, it was a very similar offence on Wyre Bridge, Garstang, by a driver in a Jazz. These offences are all pretty similar in this location. Anyway, and I'm fairly sure this was the Sgt. who is now in charge of day-to-day running of OpSnap Lancs, the reason for doing nothing was that the 'driver had executed the overtake safely' and 'overtaking cyclists and crossing double white lines is legal when the cyclist is travelling at 10mph or less'. 'Safely' clearly meant, to this Sgt., and to the offender's barrister in the above case : there was no collision. As you can see, it's a humped bridge, followed by a blind right hand bend. The police, in Lancashire at least, just omit from their interpretation of the Highway Code any of the 'woke' namby pamby nonsense.

https://upride.cc/incident/yl12ffp_cmax_closepassdwlcross/

https://upride.cc/incident/ku15ekc_royalmailbigvan_dwlcrossclosepass/

https://upride.cc/incident/yl16rnv_infiniti_closepassdwlcross/

There was no action or response on those, but this one (also Wyre Bridge, but the opposite direction) resulted in a 'driving course'

https://upride.cc/incident/km61uwp_passat_closepass/

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wtjs replied to wtjs | 1 month ago
1 like

And this is the same bridge this morning, as a result of the Lancashire Constabulary Laissez-Faire Road Traffic Policy which has legitimised red traffic light offences, DWL offences and pretty much everything else- unless you're somebody they don't like. They would certainly 'do' me, if I gave them the chance.

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dubwise | 1 month ago
6 likes

I do hope that Rebecca Comins family get justice but fear the sentencing will be a cop-out.

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Sriracha | 1 month ago
4 likes

I assume he was "phone-alysed"? Actually, I doubt he was, as I don't believe it is standard procedure. It should be - whatever the criteria that led to the breathalyser becoming standard procedure, those criteria are far exceeded by use of the mobile phone at the wheel.

Because either this was a (mis)calculated punishment pass (so malice aforethought), or he was "autopiloting" along with only as much attention to the road as he judged necessary to glimpse any motor vehicle up ahead, and to keep within his lane, which tragically he managed to do.

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Rendel Harris replied to Sriracha | 1 month ago
6 likes

Sriracha wrote:

I assume he was "phone-alysed"? Actually, I doubt he was, as I don't believe it is standard procedure.

Willing to stand corrected but I think it has actually been standard procedure since 2012 to seize drivers' mobile phones in the event of a fatal or serious injury incident. There was a kerfuffle in 2014 when ACPO suggested that mobiles should be seized in the event of any incident, even a minor bump, and they rowed back somewhat on that, but I'm fairly sure that in the event of a KSI phones are always checked.

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Sriracha replied to Rendel Harris | 1 month ago
1 like

That's good to know. So presumably this driver was not on their mobile - not scrolling, browsing, viewing, nothing. So WTF was he up to not to see what was in front?

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Rendel Harris replied to Sriracha | 1 month ago
8 likes

Sriracha wrote:

That's good to know. So presumably this driver was not on their mobile - not scrolling, browsing, viewing, nothing. So WTF was he up to not to see what was in front?

One would think the probability is that he saw perfectly clearly what was in front and decided, either because the mere presence of so many cyclists on the road annoyed him, or just for shits and giggles, to "buzz" Rebecca and misjudged it. The fact that he had already done this to at least one other rider in the event miles before argues a deliberate pattern of behaviour rather than a momentary distraction.

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