Off-road dirt biker 'absolutely flying' at twice speed limit killed pedestrian crossing road

James Mitchell
James Mitchell -Credit:Durham Constabulary

The driver of an off-road dirt bike which had no number plate, no mirrors and no indicators killed a pedestrian as he crossed the road.

James Mitchell, 29, was doing wheelies, overtaking and "absolutely flying' down Haughton Road, Darlington, in the seconds before he hit Steven Roberts. Mr Roberts was wheeling his pedal bike across the B6279 Haughton Road, on the evening of Saturday February 11 last year.

He was declared dead at the scene. Mitchell had no insurance and has multiple previous convictions for driving offences.

On Friday, the dad-of-three stood in the dock at Teesside Crown Court waiting to be sentenced. His barrister said that he was very anxious about what would happen.

The court heard that Mitchell had posted on social media about his new bike, just three hours before the crash at 7.10pm. The orange and black KTM 350cc motorcycle was described as an "off-road bike," which had had it's back wheel over-inflated.

Emergency services descended on Haughton Road after a crash
Emergency services descended on Haughton Road after a crash -Credit:Cllr Sajna Ali

Mr Roberts was waiting to cross the road, where Russell Street joins Freeman's Place. The court heard that the junction on Russell Street "is not simple" with hatched lines in the middle of the road. There is a pedestrian crossing 50 metres away and the road surface was wet.

Jolyon Perks, prosecuting, said that CCTV footage had been used to determine Mitchell's speed. He was driving at 66mph in the seconds before the collision.

One witness, who was travelling in his mother's car on Haughton Road saw Mitchell overtaking the car in front of him- and accelerating towards the railway bridge at an estimated 60mph. The road is a 30-zone.

The man said that he saw Mitchell's "motorbike wheel come off the road twice." The wheelies were also caught on CCTV.

A pedestrian who was walking towards Mitchell, by Bannatyne's gym, told police that "the dirt bike was absolutely flying." The man and his companion heard a screech and saw that "the bike's rear wheel had locked up, as Mitchell had slammed on his brakes." The witness said that Mitchell was "out of control."

The witness also saw the collision and rushed over to give Mr Roberts CPR.

Mr Perks told the court that Mr Roberts was "projected into items of roadside furniture." He suffered fatal injuries. A doctor from the North East Ambulance Service and paramedics arrived at the scene, but Mr Roberts was declared dead at 7.42pm on the roadside. The cause of his death was found to be "blunt force head injury."

Mitchell failed a roadside drugs test. The level of the cannabis by-product found was consistent with recent use of the drug.

Mitchell was taken to James Cook Hospital with serious injuries. He was arrested on February 16, after he was released. In a pre-prepared statement, he said he "accepted responsibility" for the crash, but that "he thought he was insured under his fleet policy."

After initially denying the charge, he pleaded guilty to causing death by dangerous driving two weeks before he was due to stand trial. Mitchell has previous convictions for driving without due care and attention, and failing to stop after an accident in 2008. His licence was endorsed for the two offences and for having no licence and no insurance.

In 2012, he was convicted of taking a vehicle without consent, and driving with no licence or insurance. He was jailed for 10-months, in 2014, for aggravated vehicle taking and driving with no licence or insurance.

In mitigation, John Griffiths said that his client has "no recollection of what happened" but that he is "remorseful and has a high level of anxiety.

"He is devastated that his actions have led to the death of another individual" Mr Griffiths said, "he will have to live with this for the rest of his life - knowing his actions have killed someone. He did try to stop, there is evidence that his brake lights were illuminated."

The court heard that Mitchell has three children under the age of 11, and that he runs his own business.

Judge Nathan Adams told Mitchell, who was sobbing: "The motorcycle you acquired should never have been on the road - it was designed for off-road use. It had no number plate, no mirrors and no indicators. You had no insurance, had taken cannabis and were under the effects of it.

"You were driving at high speed in a way that was clearly dangerous - at an average speed of 66mph in a 30-zone, in the build-up to this. I accept you hit your brakes but it was far too little, too late.

"You were tearing your way through Freeman's Place and doing wheelies on two occasions. Had you been travelling at the speed limit, you would have had ample time to stop and avoid this collision."

Mitchell, of Killinghall Street in Darlington, was jailed for 10-years-and-six-months. He will serve two-thirds of his sentence, before being released on licence.

He was disqualified from driving for 14-years. He must pass an extended driving test before he is allowed back on the roads. The motorcycle will be destroyed.

"I very much hope" the judge told Mitchell, as he was led away, "that when you are released you won't be back here. I'm told you are a hardworking individual and you have family supporting you. I hope you can pick up your life, after you have served your sentence."

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