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Tractor driver who was using social media app when he killed cyclist jailed for more than eight years

Police officer says Jonathan Sumner “was essentially driving a lethal weapon” when he crashed into Helen Wickham and her son, who sustained life-changing injuries

A tractor driver who was using a social media app when he killed a cyclist and left her son, who was riding with her, with life-changing injuries, has been jailed for eight years and six months.

A Cheshire Constabulary police officer said that Jonathan Sumner, aged 33 and from Arclid, Cheshire, “was essentially driving a lethal weapon” at the time of the fatal crash in which 53-year-old Helen Wickham lost her life.

Her son, aged 19 at the time, sustained serious leg injuries in the crash, which happened at around 7.25pm on 27 April 2020 on the A54 Holmes Chapel Road.

Sumner, who was towing a roller behind his tractor at the time and had pleaded guilty to causing death by dangerous driving and causing serious injury by dangerous driving at an earlier hearing, was sentenced at Chester Crown Court yesterday.

He had claimed not to have seen the cyclists due to low sun, but collision investigators from Cheshire Constabulary established that they would have been visible from a distance of more than 200 metres.

It was also established that he was exceeding the 20mph speed limit to which his his tractor and trailer was restricted, and that he had been using his mobile phone at the time of the crash, including checking Snapchat images and videos.

Once released from jail, Sumner will be banned from driving for five years.

Following the sentencing hearing, Ms Wickham’s family said: “What happened that day was totally avoidable, not only did he take away a wonderful, caring, devoted and selfless person, he also caused our son to sustain serious life-changing physical and mental injuries. We enjoyed a very close family relationship, with a lot of love and losing Helen has left a massive void in our lives.

“Helen was so full of life, she had an amazing smile, bright, sparkling, loving eyes, and her presence would light up any room. She was well loved by all who were fortunate to have been a part of her life.

“Helen was always attending and running social events, she was always there for other people. She approached everything in life with passion and determination. Helen was enthusiastic and a driving force in everything that she did, she really did touch a huge number of lives.

 “‘She gave time to love’ is written on Helen’s' headstone which sums up the beautiful, wonderful, caring woman Helen was. When she died, everyone who knew her lost someone so very special and that’s the most devastating feeling to have.

"One of hardest things to come to terms with is, life is fragile, it brings it home to you that it can change in a moment,” the family added.

Investigating officer Sergeant Simon Degg said: “Sumner’s actions back in April 2020 have devastated a family and should serve as a reminder of the vital importance of paying full attention while driving.

“Sumner was essentially driving a lethal weapon. He was in control of a combined 11-tonnes, yet he thought it was appropriate to be on his mobile phone.

“This collision was completely avoidable, and I hope the sentence handed to Sumner will provide some form of closure for Helen’s family.

“Our thoughts remain with Helen’s loved ones, and we would like to pay tribute to their bravery throughout the course of this investigation,” he added.

Simon joined road.cc as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.

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14 comments

Avatar
lonpfrb | 3 months ago
1 like

A scandal that big tech can't make a mandatory driver block on smartphones. The GNSS (Speed/Position) Accelerometers (Motion) and Gyroscopes (Attitude) provide a sufficient set of data to be sure that driving is taking place so that non-emergency use can not be done.

Given existing law on hands free use, calls can still be answered by passengers.

This is completely avoidable road danger through a political failure to understand the technology and legislate appropriately.

Avatar
Rendel Harris replied to lonpfrb | 3 months ago
3 likes

If it were feasible that would be excellent, but what would happen to bus passengers, people in the back of cabs etc?

Avatar
hawkinspeter replied to lonpfrb | 3 months ago
2 likes
lonpfrb wrote:

A scandal that big tech can't make a mandatory driver block on smartphones. The GNSS (Speed/Position) Accelerometers (Motion) and Gyroscopes (Attitude) provide a sufficient set of data to be sure that driving is taking place so that non-emergency use can not be done.

Given existing law on hands free use, calls can still be answered by passengers.

This is completely avoidable road danger through a political failure to understand the technology and legislate appropriately.

You're proposing a technological fix for a law enforcement issue and that almost never works. The main problem is that the phones are owned by the people doing the law-breaking and have no interest in buying devices that would prevent them doing so. This also means that the manufacturers have little interest in working on this and if forced to comply, they would likely make it possible to circumvent.

The simple answer is that we need better traffic policing - that also brings multiple other benefits and solves a lot of other problems with getting the worst drivers off the road.

Avatar
Benthic | 3 months ago
10 likes

What does it take to get a lifetime ban from driving privileges?

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wtjs replied to Benthic | 3 months ago
11 likes

What does it take to get a lifetime ban from driving privileges?

Nobody knows, as it's never happened in the UK

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OldRidgeback | 3 months ago
1 like

For once the penalty seems appropriate for the severity of the offence. My sympathies are with the family and I hope the injured son can recover. 

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mctrials23 replied to OldRidgeback | 3 months ago
10 likes

Not sure I agree. Just over 4 years in jail for killing someone, wrecking a family and causing life changing injuries to someone else? Doesn't seem close to appropriate. Its time we treated acts that are monumentally dangerous as being just that. If you want to take the chance that your inattention might kill someone then you should be severely punished why your roll of the dice goes against you (well, someone else in reality). If you kill someone behind the wheel through something like this i.e. your social media was more important than other peoples lives then you are banned for life from any motor vehicle as a start. Then your real punishment in the form of a serious jail sentence starts....

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eburtthebike | 3 months ago
18 likes

“A Cheshire Constabulary police officer said that Jonathan Sumner, aged 33 and from Arclid, Cheshire, “was essentially driving a lethal weapon”

All cars are lethal weapons, so why are other drivers not treated the same as this one?

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KDee replied to eburtthebike | 3 months ago
5 likes

Exactly my thought. All cars, vans, buses and trucks. 

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AidanR | 3 months ago
16 likes

Seems like a decent sentence, although of course it doesn't bring back the life lost and the lives changed irrevocably.

I do wonder, though, if had he been driving a car might the sentence have been lighter?

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Hirsute | 3 months ago
34 likes

Finally "the sun was in my eyes" is rejected.

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grOg replied to Hirsute | 3 months ago
2 likes

SMIDSY should be automatically ruled out as a defence.

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hawkinspeter replied to grOg | 3 months ago
3 likes
grOg wrote:

SMIDSY should be automatically ruled out as a defence.

It should be used as a confession for careless driving

Avatar
ktache | 3 months ago
25 likes

My thoughts are with the family and friends of Helen, and best luck to the son in his recovery.

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