A motorist who killed a cyclist while speeding at up to 51mph in a 30mph zone, and who was found to have traces of ketamine, cocaine, and alcohol in his system at the time of the fatal collision, has been handed a suspended prison sentence and banned from driving for three years, after a prosecutor described his standard of driving as “just below” the threshold for dangerous driving.
Harry Bennett, who had passed his driving test just two weeks before killing cyclist Geoffrey Dean in June 2021, told police that he had not seen the 77-year-old on the road – despite passing him while briefly travelling in the opposite direction – and that he had been in a rush to get home from a barbecue following a “long day”.
Mr Dean was cycling home from his design office in Bideford, north Devon, at round 6pm on 4 June 2021 when he was struck from behind by a BMW driven by Bennett, throwing him in the air and over the roof of the car. After 40 minutes of life support treatment, he died at the scene from multiple injuries.
Bennett, who crashed into a wall after losing control of his vehicle following the collision, admitted causing death by driving without due care and attention at Exeter Crown Court, Devon Live reports.
According to prosecutor Herc Ashworth, the 24-year-old motorist had attended a barbecue with friends at Kenwith Valley Nature Reserve on the day of the fatal collision.
After drinking two bottles of beer at the barbecue, he left at 6pm, initially driving in the wrong direction, during which time he passed Mr Dean riding on the other side of the road. After turning his car to head north along Northam Road, CCTV footage captured Bennett accelerating over speed bumps above the road’s 30mph limit, and one witness said she saw the motorist speeding shortly before the collision.
A forensic collision investigator also established that as the road turned to the right, Bennett – travelling at between 43 and 51mph – potentially understeered, running wide and hitting the kerb with his wheel.
While there were no witnesses to the crash, analysis of the damage revealed that Bennett hit Mr Dean almost directly from behind, sending him onto and over the bonnet, windscreen, and roof of the car.
There was no indication the driver applied the brakes before the crash, and Bennett later told police that he “did not see” the cyclist, despite the court hearing that the road conditions were good and it was a dry, sunny day.
After crashing his car into a wall a short distance from the collision, Bennett remained at the scene, where he told police officers: “For f***’s sake, prison sentence here I come.”
A roadside breathalyser test produced a reading of 23mg of alcohol per 100ml of breath, below the 35mg limit, while Bennett also told police that he had taken ketamine at 4am that morning. Traces of both that drug and cocaine were found in his system, again below the legal limit.
At Exeter Crown Court, after Bennett admitted causing death by driving without due care and attention, Mr Ashworth described the motorist’s standard of driving as “just below” the threshold for the more serious offence of dangerous driving.
Meanwhile, Judge David Evans said Bennett’s decision to drive at “excess speed” was the result of “arrogant over-confidence”.
“Far too many young people, especially young males, at one time or another make the woeful choice to drive at excess speed to get to a destination as soon as they can,” Evans said.
“In doing so they show a disregard for the obvious risks of driving at speed and it is often coupled with an arrogant over-confidence that it won’t be them that incurs the risks.”
The judge told Bennett that he should have been aware of Mr Dean’s presence on the road having passed him while driving in the opposite direction.
Evans also noted that the drugs in the driver’s system may have impaired his ability to a degree, but that they were secondary to the “deliberate” decision to speed.
“As you admitted you were rushing to get home,” he said. “That is the decision that led to Mr Dean’s death. You were driving at greatly excessive speed for that stretch of road and for that bend.”
He sentenced Bennett to 16 months in prison, suspended for two years, and ordered him to undertake 300 hours of unpaid work and rehabilitation days without probation. The 24-year-old was also banned from driving for three years.
In a statement read to the court, Mr Dean’s son Jeremy described his father as “an extremely kind and caring man” with an interest in helping people.
“His sudden and tragic loss has left a huge void in our lives and will never be replaced. He was the go-to person for advice if ever there was a problem and always knew what to do,” he said.
An engineer and production design manager, Mr Dean established his own design office in Bideford, where had been working late on the day of his death due to a phone call with a Dutch office. His son Jeremy also noted that he was an “ingenious engineer” who was devoted to his wife and family, and loved bikes, sailing, and travelling.
The family say they are struggling to understand what happened on the day he was killed, noting that he regularly cycled that route and was safety conscious.
Remembering advice his father would give him, Jeremy concluded: “The people who succeed in life are those who overcome setbacks and concentrate on the future. Keep smiling.”
Ryan joined road.cc in December 2021 and since then has kept the site’s readers and listeners informed and enthralled (well at least occasionally) on news, the live blog, and the road.cc Podcast. After boarding a wrong bus at the world championships and ruining a good pair of jeans at the cyclocross, he now serves as road.cc’s senior news writer. Before his foray into cycling journalism, he wallowed in the equally pitiless world of academia, where he wrote a book about Victorian politics and droned on about cycling and bikes to classes of bored students (while taking every chance he could get to talk about cycling in print or on the radio). He can be found riding his bike very slowly around the narrow, scenic country lanes of Co. Down.