12-year jail term for lorry driver who killed three while using mobile phone app
A lorry driver who ploughed into a broken-down car killing three people moments after watching a seven-minute Ladbible video and while typing on a sat-nav app on his mobile phone has been jailed for 12 years.
Michal Kopaniarz previously pleaded guilty to three charges of causing death by dangerous driving in connection with the four-vehicle crash on the A303 near Andover, Hampshire, on August 25, 2021.
The 39-year-old also admitted perverting the course of justice by breaking the Samsung mobile phone he had been using.
University graduate Alex Britton, 28, food delivery driver Tina Ince, 58, and recovery driver Tom Watson, 30, died of “catastrophic injuries”.
Simon Jones, prosecuting, told Winchester Crown Court that Ms Britton’s Vauxhall Astra had broken down and Ms Ince, from Southampton, had stopped in her Mercedes Sprinter food delivery van to help her.
Recovery driver Mr Watson also stopped when he saw the stationary vehicles still partly in the carriageway.
He was about to winch the Astra on to his recovery vehicle when the defendant’s HGV, travelling at 56mph, ploughed into the rear of the food van which had its hazard lights on.
This shunted the Mercedes into the Astra killing the three victims who were stood between the vehicles, Mr Jones said.
The prosecutor said that Kopaniarz had watched a seven minute-long Ladbible video from Facebook on his phone which he had gone on to share with a woman on Facebook Messenger 42 seconds prior to the collision.
And at the point of impact, the defendant had been typing the destination for his journey, a Co-op water bottle depot in Andover, into a mapping app.
The defendant continued driving at 56mph when the collision happened and he only applied emergency braking at about 0.2 to 0.5 seconds or nine to 12 metres before impact despite having a clear view of the vehicles for 170m.
The court was shown dash-cam footage from Kopaniarz’s lorry as it drove towards the halted traffic and failed to slow down before the collision.
Following the crash, Kopaniarz was captured on dash-cam footage snapping his Samsung phone into two pieces which police later rebuilt to obtain the data from it.
Mr Jones said: “From the moment of this collision, the defendant’s actions were directed to destroying evidence that he knew implicated him and points towards his culpability and dangerous driving.
“Whilst he said he didn’t see, the reality is that the reason is he was using his phone.”
Several members of the victims’ families paid emotional tributes to their loved ones in the packed courtroom.
Aaron Law, who was engaged to his childhood sweetheart Ms Britton, the mother of their two young daughters, spoke directly looking towards the defendant and said: “My life, my girls’ lives were ruined, changed forever.
“No-one can ever prepare for having to tell their three-year-old daughter that their mother has died and she would never be coming home, there are no words that I can find to describe how that felt.”
Wiping away tears, he added: “I struggle to care for my broken family in their time of need, I am a broken man, a shell.”
Mr Law said that he would “never forgive” the defendant for the pain caused by his lies following the crash by saying that the brakes had failed on the HGV.
He added: “You took my wife-to-be, you took my best friend, you took the mother of my children, you stole our happy ever after.”
Avril Swain, the mother of Ms Britton, from Portsmouth, who wanted to be a teacher, said: “I am enraged they were killed by such a mindless thing.
“The hole Alex has left is immense.”
Emma Watson, the widow of Mr Watson, from Southampton, said: “I miss him every second of every day, this has changed my life, I do not sleep very well and wake in the early hours of the morning thinking of the life and happiness we had planned.
“Tom was amazing with children, he would have been a great father, he wanted us to start a family together, grow old together, you have stolen that from us.”
Ms Ince’s daughter Melissa Green said: “She was a kind, generous and selfless woman who always put others in front of herself.”
Adrienne Knight, defending, said the defendant, who had been a lorry driver for eight years, takes “full responsibility” for the crash.
In a letter to the court, he wrote: “I have a life sentence with gut-wrenching regret and soul-tearing sorrow that will never fade, an impossible torment I will carry as my cross until the end of my days.
“There are no words to describe how sorry I am.”
Sentencing Kopaniarz, who grew up in Poland and lived in Donnington, Shropshire, Judge Angela Morris told him: “Watching a video on a mobile phone whilst driving is breaking the law.
“The fact you did so for a length of time shows a lamentable lack of regard for the rules of the road and the safety of other road users.”
Describing his vehicle as a “lethal weapon”, she added: “Being in an articulated lorry, no doubt you felt invincible.”
She continued: “The aggravating factor is that three people lost their lives in the catastrophic manner shown in the dash-cam footage.”
Speaking after the hearing, Detective Constable Cate Paling, of Hampshire police, said: “This was a catastrophic loss of life.
“Kopaniarz killed three people because he was using his mobile phone and not paying attention to the road.
“The devastating consequences of his selfish actions have torn three families apart.
“While the sentence passed today will not heal their pain, we are pleased our investigation has provided answers and justice to the loved ones of Alex, Tina and Tom.
“More than anything I hope other drivers who think there is no harm in using their phone while driving will consider this case and learn from it.
“Nothing on your phone could ever be important enough to risk killing another person.”
The judge also banned the defendant from driving for 16 years and ordered him to take an extended retest before he can drive again.