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Police helicopter finds hit-and-run driver sleeping in field after killing cyclist (+ video)

Drunk driver Damian Ralph has been sentenced to seven and a half years in jail

A drunk driver who killed a cyclist in Huntingdon and fled the scene was discovered sleeping in a field after Cambridgeshire Constabulary deployed a helicopter to search for him.

Damian Ralph, aged 38, was jailed for seven years and six months at Cambridge Crown Court on Monday after pleading guilty at an earlier hearing at Peterborough Crown Court to causing death by careless driving whilst over the legal alcohol limit.

Cyclist Christopher Mardlin, aged 58 and from Huntingdon, died at the scene of the crash which happened on the A141 Sapley Road at 10.40pm on 1 November last year.

Police say that Ralph fled the scene in his Hyundai Terracan 4x4 car but crashed into a hedge around half a mile away. The motorist was said to have then tried to drive the vehicle round the field to back out of it.

Officers attended the scene after being alerted by another driver, and the National Police Air Service (NPAS) helicopter was deployed and identified a heat source which was discovered to be Ralph, of Kings Ripton, Huntingdon, who was asleep in a ditch close to his vehicle.

When he was breathalysed at 0020 hours – nearly two hours after the fatal crash – he returned a reading of 89 microgrammes of alcohol in 100ml of breath, more than two and a half times the legal limit of 35 microgrammes.

A further breath test was carried out at the police station with Ralph giving a reading of 72 microgrammes of alcohol in 100ml of breath.

When interviewed by officers, he claimed that he had been driving to Huntingdon to try and prove his suspicions that his former partner had left their child at home while she went to work.

He also claimed that he could not remember hitting a cyclist and that he would have stopped his car had he been aware of the collision, even though car parts discovered by police at the scene were a match for his vehicle.

Ralph added that after crashing into the hedge, he got out of his car and felt disorientated, then fell asleep in the ditch.

Forensic collision investigators established that there was no evidence at the scene of a car braking either before or after the crash.

Besides the jail sentence, Ralph was also banned from driving for seven years and nine months and will have to take an extended retest should he wish to regain his licence.

Detective Sergeant Mark Dollard, of the Beds, Cambs and Herts (BCH) Road Policing Unit, said: “This is yet another case which highlights the utter devastation and life-changing impact someone can cause by getting behind the wheel after drinking.

“Ralph’s driving was appalling but not only that he then fled the scene, leaving Mr Mardlin to be found by the next passing motorist. Ralph crashed his car not long after and was found thanks to help from the NPAS helicopter.

“It is beyond belief that we still have to talk about the dangers of drink or drug driving.

“While Ralph thought he was safe to drive, the truth was he was anything but. The decision he made will no doubt stay with him for life and this case should serve as a stark warning to others.

“People can help us make the roads of Cambridgeshire safer for everyone by confidentially reporting others they suspect of driving while under the influence,” he added.

Simon joined 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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