A judge has told a respected Orangeman’s family nothing he can do could “lessen your loss”, as he gets set to sentence the dead man’s lifelong friend over the crash that killed him.
A court heard today that 60-year-old Wilson Sherrard died from multiple injuries sustained when a car driven by Richard Frazer, aged 44, veered across the main Londonderry to Belfast road just outside Claudy two years ago.
Details of the fatal collision emerged during a hearing in Londonderry Crown Court, sitting in Coleraine, where a judge praised the family’s “great dignity” in coping with the aftermath.
It was thought sentencing might have taken place today, but the judge opted to adjourn his decision.
The car crashed head-on into an oncoming van, and Mr Sherrard – a craftsman who made loyal order collarettes – died in Altnagelvin Hospital on August 2, 2016, shortly afterwards.
He was a member of Harmony LOL 858 and the city’s Apprentice Boys Browning Club, and following his death Victor Wray, a former grand master of the City of Londonderry Grand Orange Lodge, dubbed him “a great friend of all the loyal orders in the city”.
Mr Frazer – who, as well as being Mr Sherrard’s friend, was also his neighbour in Londonderry’s unionist Fountain area enclave – had pleaded guilty to causing death by careless driving, and inflicting multiple injuries on the van driver, also due to careless driving.
Frazer himself, who now lives in Stanley Road, Portsmouth, was also seriously injured in the crash.
Both he and the van driver were discharged from hospital on the same date, nine days after the collision.
A prosecuting barrister told judge Philip Babington at Tuesday’s hearing, which was attended by members of both the deceased’s family and Frazer’s family, that the defendant had been driving Mr Sherrard back from Belfast when the accident occurred.
Eyewitnesses told the police that Frazer’s Mazda car suddenly veered across the road into the path of the oncoming Mercedes van.
The car travelled on the wrong side of the road for between two and three seconds and over a distance of between 45 and 67 metres (about 148ft to 220ft) before striking the van.
A forensic scientist’s report said the accident was caused by either Frazer having a period of inattention or a period of loss of control.
One eyewitness said she saw Frazer’s car attempting to overtake a car in front, according to the prosecution.
But she said there was no space for the overtaking movement, nor was there any chance for the driver of the Mercedes van to avoid the crash.
The barrister said Frazer could offer no explanation for the crash, nor was there any evidence that provided an explanation.
“This collision is hard to fathom,” he said.
“It took place on a clear day, on a dry road, on a wide section of road.
“There is no allegation of excessive speed; there were no brake marks on the road surface.”
The barrister said the incident had all the hallmarks of Frazer having fallen asleep, but the defendant said in his police interviews that he was not tired.
He said the fatality had a deep impact on the family of the deceased and the family members were and remained devastated by the circumstances, and they continued to suffer as a result.
Defence barrister, Gavyn Cairns, said Frazer had instructed him to offer his genuine, heartfelt apologies to Mr Sherrard’s family – and to the van driver.
“It was a terrible accident and he is still unable to say what happened seconds before the head-on collision,” Mr Cairns said.
The defence barrister said Frazer has not driven since the accident two years ago.
He said after the collision Frazer was breathalysed and it returned a negative result.
Judge Babington said he would sentence Frazer on September 5 and he released him on continuing bail until that date.
He then spoke directly to members of the Sherrard family who were present in court.
“To the Sherrard family I say: These cases are always difficult.
“There is, unfortunately, nothing this court nor I can say or do to lessen your loss in this matter.
“All I would say is this court’s thoughts go out to you for bearing your terrible loss with such great dignity.”