Drunk driver jailed after hitting rickshaw and killing woman out for birthday in Elephant and Castle crash

 (Met Police)
(Met Police)

A drunk driver has been jailed for more than nine years after crashing into a rickshaw and killing a passenger who was in London to celebrate her birthday.

Luis Balcazar Soto, 24, did not have a licence and was twice over the drink-drive limit when the silver Kia he was driving smashed into the pedicab, throwing Sophie Strickland, 31, from the vehicle.

A court has heard how Ms Strickland and her friends were heading home from “one of the best nights of [their] lives” when the devastating collision happened in Elephant and Castle, south-east London, in the early hours of July 10.

The rickshaw's driver Tanzir Ahmed, who is in his 30s, was seriously injured while Ms Strickland was killed.

Mr Ahmed had stopped in New Kent Road so Ms Strickland and her friend Jade Redford, who was not harmed in the crash, could use the cash machine at a Tesco Express supermarket.

 (PA)
(PA)

Soto, whose former partner and friend were in the car with him, was described by witnesses as "driving like a madman" as he hit speeds of up to 70mph.

Southwark Crown Court heard on Tuesday that Ms Strickland, from Hay-on-Wye in mid Wales, had come to the capital to celebrate her birthday with friends.

Reading her victim impact statement from the witness box, Ms Redford said: "We were heading back to the hotel after having one of the best nights of our lives. Sophie and I were laughing to almost the very last second."

Ms Strickland had just got back into the rickshaw before the collision while Ms Redford returned to find her friend lying among the wreckage.

"I knew all I could do was sit there with Sophie, hold her, stroke her hair and tell her how much she was loved, and that memory haunts me every day," she said.

Balcazar Soto, from Elephant and Castle, tried to run from the scene but was stopped from escaping by members of the public, whom he threatened to punch and offered money to let him go.

The court heard Balcazar Soto has four previous convictions for 10 offences, including drink driving and two counts of driving whilst disqualified within 10 days of one another.

He pleaded guilty to causing death by dangerous driving, causing serious injury by dangerous driving, acting in breach of a restraining order - by seeing his former partner - and breaching a suspended sentence.

Judge Deborah Taylor has now jailed him for a total of nine years and nine months, and banned him from driving for 10 years and nine months.

 (PA)
(PA)

She told Balcazar Soto he had taken "much-loved" Ms Strickland from her friends and family - many of whom packed the public gallery as he was sentenced.

"She was 31 years old and in the prime of life - a life you denied her," she said.

"She came to London to celebrate her birthday with friends and due to your reckless and selfish actions she never went home."

The judge added: "You drove at speed and hit the rickshaw, taking it several metres down the road.”

In a statement read by prosecutor Fiona Robertson, her mother Glynis Strickland said: "Sophie was my only daughter and was the most beautiful thing in my life.

"She was celebrating her birthday with all of her friends when she was mown down by a drunk driver with devastating results - Sophie's face smashed."

She added: "As a mother, I can't imagine any greater pain in my life as losing a child I raised to a beautiful woman... In seconds, my life devastated."

Ms Strickland's father, Fred Strickland, told in a statement how he last saw his daughter at Newport bus station as she made her way to London.

"My heart is broken and I will never be the same without her," he said.

Mark Butler, defending, said Soto "apologises profusely", adding: "His remorse is demonstrated by his guilty pleas."