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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

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morgoth985 | 1 month ago
3 likes

"almost" inevitable...

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Browsie replied to morgoth985 | 1 month ago
1 like

' probably not quite ', but actually ' probably not'!.

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Smoggysteve | 1 month ago
13 likes

This says one thing only to me - intimidation. 
 

There was absolutely no reason to not be in the outside lane. There was absolutely not reason to get so close to other cyclists, as pointed out by witness Tim Radley who says he was too close as he passed him. 
 

There unfortunately is no proof of it as it is difficult to prove beyond reasonable doubt but I hope the driver holds this in his thoughts every day for the rest of his life. Driving in a way to intimidate other road users. Cyclists or other drivers has to stop. I see it every day. It makes you wonder what makes a person change their mindset when they are behind a wheel. The aggressive nature of some people's driving is just scary. And I say that as a regular road user not just a cyclist. 

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chrisonabike replied to Smoggysteve | 1 month ago
3 likes

Could be, could also just be "failing to be bothered to take sufficient care".

The real issue with our roads is that *most* interactions don't lead to death or injury despite a lot of "would've failed a driving test" behaviour. And as a driver you likely get zero feedback about the interactions that caused fear and alarm, or were not a collision by chance (or skill on the part of the cyclist / pedestrian).

But cars are force multipliers with respect to vulnerable road users (or even houses...) and whether it's negligence, impatience or aggression we know the yearly cost in lives lost or changed.

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marmotte27 replied to chrisonabike | 1 month ago
2 likes

"And as a driver you likely get zero feedback about the interactions that caused fear and alarm"
That's why I now always give a big shout that'll be heard inside the vehicle (and gesture, although that could be ignored by a driver not looking into their rear-view mirror).

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stonojnr replied to marmotte27 | 1 month ago
3 likes

Oh the ones who close pass are always looking.

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Smoggysteve replied to chrisonabike | 1 month ago
2 likes

As I've mentioned already in this thread. Causing death by dangerous driving. There was nothing careless about it. Experts in this case would have given enough evidence to convict him of the more serious crime than just careless which we all know is a pitiful slap in the wrist. 

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chrisonabike replied to Smoggysteve | 1 month ago
1 like

My apologies - you're right; I'd misread this and thought that the court had taken the guilty plea to the lower charge.

Normally the "seed of doubt" is enough to get you off.  The standard Scottish defense - "I do not recall that".  Let the prosecution try to convince beyond reasonable doubt that e.g. the cyclist definitely didn't suddenly throw themself under the vehicle.

There's already doubt in jurors' minds because "accidents happen" - all the time...

Or if you want a more active defense go with some combination of "medical episode" / blaming the victim / sun in eyes.

This one is noteworthy then - especially because in previous cases there seems to be need for a lot of positive evidence to convict of dangerous driving.

Speculation now but it's unusual enough to may you wonder about the competence of the defence?  Guess that depends on whether someone managed to brief the defendant before he gave himself a major problem: admitting he saw the victim (red flashing light on the rear of her bike) before hitting them.

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Smoggysteve replied to chrisonabike | 1 month ago
1 like

It saddens me so much that it becomes so difficult to andure people who commit these offences are given the punishment they should and the families of the victim get the justice they so rightly deserve.

youre right with the positive evidence. But it seems that in these cases it needs to be so overwhelming that it goes far beyond the reasonable doubt needed to convict any other crime. I'm pretty sure prima fascie cover most cases but the CPS are too quick to bargain down to secure a conviction. 

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wycombewheeler replied to chrisonabike | 1 month ago
2 likes

chrisonabike wrote:

Could be, could also just be "failing to be bothered to take sufficient care". The real issue with our roads is that *most* interactions don't lead to death or injury despite a lot of "would've failed a driving test" behaviour. .

which is why they need to take action on these, a higher chance of my caught convicted of careless driving is far more likely to make the roads safer than draconian sentances for those few who don't get away with it.

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perce replied to Smoggysteve | 1 month ago
10 likes

That's exactly what I thought - a deliberate close pass designed to teach a cyclist a lesson, this time with tragic consequences. I think most people on here will have been subject to such unnecessary passes at some time. Condolences to the cyclists family and friends.

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Rendel Harris replied to perce | 1 month ago
15 likes

perce wrote:

That's exactly what I thought - a deliberate close pass designed to teach a cyclist a lesson, this time with tragic consequences.

Sadly oftentimes it isn't even that (common and inexcusable as that is), it's just "having a laugh", buzzing cyclists just for the fun of watching them flinch in the same way spiteful moronic children throw stones at flocks of birds to watch them startle or pull the legs off spiders, just doing it because they can. 999 times out of 1000 all it results in is a seriously scared cyclist and of course there's very little chance of being sanctioned unless the cyclist has a camera, is prepared to go through the hassle of reporting and, least likely of all, can find a police operative who is prepared to take it seriously. The other one time out of 1000, it's this. RIP Rebecca.

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lukei1 | 1 month ago
24 likes

Defence lawyer wants mitigation because he didn't kill any of the previous cyclists he passed? Honestly

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Eton Rifle replied to lukei1 | 1 month ago
17 likes
lukei1 wrote:

Defence lawyer wants mitigation because he didn't kill any of the previous cyclists he passed? Honestly

"people forget that on the Titanic's maiden voyage there were over 1000 miles of uneventful, very pleasurable cruising before it hit the iceberg!"

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