Van driver who killed grandmother, 71, after taking speed jailed

Van driver who killed grandmother, 71, in motorway crash after taking speed to stop himself falling asleep at the wheel as he made deliveries across UK is jailed for seven-and-a-half years

  • Marcin Szewczyk, 43, admitted causing death by dangerous driving in court
  • He was found to not have a valid UK driving licence, for which he blamed Covid
  • He was sentenced to 7-and-a-half years in prison at Chester Crown Court 

A van driver who killed a grandmother in a motorway smash after taking speed to stay awake has been jailed for seven-and-a-half years. 

Marcin Szewczyk, 43, had been driving for almost 12 hours out of the previous 22-and-a half hours when he ploughed into the back of a Kia Sportage car which had pulled up in heavy traffic.

Mother-of-three and grandmother-of-two Suzanne Taylor, 71, was in the rear of the Kia and suffered fatal injuries in the impact, dying at the scene on the M6 near Sandbach, Cheshire. 

She was being driven back to her home in Burscough, near Southport by her daughter Wendy Jones and son-in-law Dominic after a family holiday in the Isle of Wight.

Ms Jones, 49, was in the front passenger seat and was seriously injured in the 58mph smash. She is now confined to a wheelchair.

Marcin Szewczyk, 43, had taken speed to keep himself awake, but kept drifting off at the wheel, Chester Crown Court heard

Mother-of-three and grandmother-of-two Suzanne Taylor, 71, was in the rear of the Kia and suffered fatal injuries in the impact, dying at the scene

In the hours before the impact Poland-born Szewczyk, from Stockport, Greater Manchester, had driven 455 miles across the UK – while snorting amphetamine to stop himself falling asleep at the wheel as he feared losing his job.

Despite his intake of the drug he was found to be under the drug-drive limit. It later emerged he did not have a valid UK driving licence. 

At Chester Crown court, Szewczyk admitted causing death and serious injury by dangerous driving. 

Judge Steven Everett called for a change in the law on the working hours of delivery drivers and also questioned the UK’s drug-driving regulations. 

The judge asked why van drivers ‘are not required to undergo the same sort of tests and follow the same rigorous regulations as lorry drivers.’

He continued: ‘If the defendant was driving a HGV he would not be allowed to drive the sort of hours he did here […] It is something that perhaps ought to be considered [by government].’

He added: ‘I was surprised that the amount of drugs in his system was below the so-called legal limit. How can it be legal to drive with a controlled drug in your system? 

‘Who has decided that there should be a legal limit? Just taking amphetamine is illegal. Somebody needs to get a grip on this. I will be getting in touch with the Police Crime Commissioner.

The tragedy occurred at 12.30am on October 30 2021 whilst Szewczyk, who delivers frozen food, was driving his white Mercedes sprinter van along the Northbound carriageway of the M6.

Shortly before the crash, another motorist was so concerned by the van’s ‘jagged and aggressive’ driving that his wife phoned the police to alert them.

Stuart Frost had followed the van on the motorway for around 20 miles, and recounted seeing the van swerving between lanes and breaking suddenly for no reason. 

At the roadside Szewczyk a father of three was seen to be ‘twitchy and uncontrolled’ due to the effects of the drug.

Describing the van’s ‘erratic’ driving, prosecutor Frances Willmott told the court: ‘Szewczyk nearly collided with road furniture and with other vehicles. 

‘At one point Mr Frost overtook Szewczyk and had expected to see him on his phone or otherwise distracted but he could not see into the van as there was a curtain on the window.’

On October 29, Szewczyk had covered 260 miles from shortly before 6am to 6.10pm from Manchester to Hull, the court was told.

On the day of the collision he had been making deliveries to London. 

Heavy traffic on the M6 in Cheshire, one of the UK’s busiest motorways (file image)

The court heard that GPS data showed he left a warehouse in Manchester at 2am, and would have been at the warehouse some 30 to 40 minutes before that time in order to load the van.

Ms Willmott said: ‘He then drove to London making a number of short stops consistent with delivering to shops, before driving back north. 

‘He made two shorter stops of under an hour and a stop of two and a half hours near Wolverhampton on his way home. 

‘By the time of the collision he had driven 455 miles and it was 22.5 hours since he had left the warehouse. He had spent 11 hours and 52 minutes of that driving.’

Moments before the collision, traffic began to slow with queues ahead. Mr Jones switched on the Kia’s hazard lights, before looking in his mirror and seeing ‘a van bearing down on them’.

He is said to have commented that the van was about to collide with their vehicle before the crash. 

After Szewczyk hit the family’s car, Ms Jones was left drifting in and out of consciousness and had to be cut from the vehicle, the court heard.

Police at the scene described Szewczyk as unsteady on his feet, not moving in a confident or sober way, and as twitchy and making uncontrolled movements. 

After failing a preliminary impairment test, a blood sample was taken and Szewczyk was found to have 129 micrograms of drug per litre of blood. The legal limit is 250 micrograms.

Szewczyk gave no comment in police interview but subsequently told his employers that he had failed the impairment tests because he ‘did not have any energy left, was exhausted and could not stand on his feet.’

Inquiries revealed he had unsuccessfully applied to exchange his Polish driving licence for a UK driving licence.

In a statement Tesco worker Ms Jones said: ‘I never got to go to my mum’s funeral to say goodbye. My leg was broken in two places. The surgeon told me it is going to be a long road, two years, to heal.

‘I cannot contribute to my family or engage with work colleagues which I really miss. There is ongoing counselling for trauma. I need support. There are so many things that have been taken from me. 

‘Everything changed for me in that moment. I am now classed as disabled but I fight everyday. It is what my mum would want. She never got the chance to fight back.’

For Szewczyk, defence counsel Milena Bennett said that his usual route would involve 15 drop-off points, but he had been asked to take an extra five due to staff shortages. 

She said: ‘He did feel tired. He previously made complaints about the extended route but was told in no uncertain terms that if he did not want the job they would always find someone else.

‘He made the wrong decision and he accepts that. Especially when he did feel tired, he should’ve stopped for a longer period of time… His mistake was that he thought he felt rested enough to drive but obviously he was not. He even said he had an energy drink to get himself more awake.’

Miss Bennett said that though his body was tired his ‘brain was not registering’ so he continued to drive. She said the reason why he kept breaking intermittently and swerving across lanes was that he kept ‘dropping off’.

She added: ‘He is truly remorseful about what he has done. He stated that if he could turn the clock back to take away all the sorrow and the pain he has caused, he would’ve done so but unfortunately he cannot do that. 

‘He continually has flashbacks and he thinks about what he has done on a daily basis and cannot sleep.’

Szewczyk was also given a five year driving ban which will begin when he is released from prison.

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