US servicewoman charged over motorcyclist’s death ‘on duty at time’, court told

A US servicewoman was still on duty as she drove home from work at a Suffolk military base and allegedly killed a motorcyclist, her lawyer has told a court.

Father-of-one Matthew Day, 33, died of his injuries after a red Honda Accord car collided with the Yamaha motorbike he was riding in the village of Southery, near Downham Market, Norfolk, on August 26.

Airman first class Mikayla Hayes, 24, who is based at RAF Lakenheath in Suffolk, is charged with causing Mr Day’s death by careless driving.

Deputy senior district judge Tan Ikram is considering the issue of jurisdiction in the case, amid arguments over whether she should be dealt with by a UK court or US military court.

Norfolk helicopter crash
RAF Lakenheath in Norfolk where Mikayla Hayes works as an Airman (Emma Sword/PA)

The US Air Force (USAF) has served the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) with a certificate under the 1952 Visiting Forces Act, which asserts jurisdiction.

It is understood that, if granted, Hayes – who is on bail – could face a US military court.

Prosecutor Rachel Scott described it as a “very significant concession for any sovereign state to make to surrender jurisdiction”.

Ms Scott argued that it is “contrary to common sense to suggest that she (Hayes) was on duty at the time of the accident”.

The prosecutor told Westminster Magistrates’ Court the collision occurred after the defendant had finished for the day and while she was driving home.

She said the servicewoman, sat in the dock wearing a black suit and grey shirt, was not on duty at the time, was not completing a work-related task and was “entirely in control of her time”.

Rejecting this suggestion, Andrew Cogan told the court his client had been in a military PT (physical training) uniform at the time and was still on duty and under orders as she travelled home.

He said her housing, despite the tenancy being in her and her husband’s name and being off the base, is “part and parcel” of the base.

He said: “She is required to live at a place other than RAF Lakenheath and travelling daily to her place of work is, in my submission, clearly indicative of it being a duty activity.”

Being dismissed from work that day “necessarily imports the fact that she was on duty”, he said, and therefore under orders to go home.

He acknowledged that it is not correct to say she is on duty at all times – giving the example of being on annual leave – but insisted she was on duty at the time of the crash.

Harry Dunn death
Court artist sketch of Mrs Justice Bobbie Cheema-Grubb making her comments at the Old Bailey after US citizen Anne Sacoolas (on screen right) pleaded guilty via video-link to causing Harry Dunn’s death by dangerous driving (Elizabeth Cook/PA)

Mr Cogan said Hayes’ situation is different from the case of US citizen Anne Sacoolas as the latter was not a serving member of the American military and so would not fall under the Visiting Forces Act.

Sacoolas was driving her Volvo on the wrong side of the road when she crashed into and killed 19-year-old motorcyclist Harry Dunn near RAF Croughton in Northamptonshire in August 2019.

Last month, the 45-year-old, appearing from the US via video-link in a case brought by the CPS, pleaded guilty to causing Mr Dunn’s death by careless driving.

Sentencing is due to be passed at the Old Bailey in the week of November 28 and she has been urged to return to Britain to face justice in person.

In the Hayes case, members of both the defendant’s and the deceased’s families were in court on Friday.

Judge Ikram said he will give a written ruling in open court on November 23 at 10am.