Killer driver walks free
Selects a safe speed, in her opinion:
A former model may have killed a cyclist because she was wearing
stiletto heels while test driving a sports car, a court has heard.
Julie Hunter, 42, lost control of the Alfa Romeo Spyder as she drove
around a parked car at 50mph in a 30mph zone
The car spun on to the other side of the carriageway and ploughed into
fitness instructor Debbie Riches, 21.
Hunter's two-and-a-quarter inch stiletto ankle boots probably
contributed to her losing control.
Hunter took the £15,000 car for a test drive in her home town of
Colchester in Essex on May 12, 2005, with the owner, Heidi Holohan,
sitting in the passenger seat.
She had been driving with 24-year-old Miss Holohan for a few minutes
when she tried to whip around the parked car, Chelmsford Crown Court
But the Spyder spun on to the other side of the carriageway, flinging
Riches' bicycle 20ft in the air and pinning her underneath.
She was pronounced dead at the scene after lying trapped for 30
minutes until fire crews lifted the vehicle off with inflatable
The court heard Miss Riches, also from Colchester, was working at a
local swimming pool and had recently qualified as a gym instructor.
She was going out with a soldier.
Hunter was taken unconscious to Colchester General Hospital with a
fractured skull and internal damage to her ear.
She was not well enough to be interviewed by police until several
weeks later. Miss Holohan was uninjured.
A crash investigator confirmed there had been no mechanical faults
with the car or bicycle but he added that Hunter's "very high" heels
"may have inhibited the defendant's ability to drive".
Prosecutor Simon Spence said: "According to what Miss Holohan was
saying, she was driving the car too fast for the road conditions,
perhaps to the limitations of the vehicle.
"The Spyder crossed to the other side of the road and collided with a
pedal cycle either
ridden or pushed by Debbie Riches. She was trapped under the car and
died almost immediately. The bicycle was thrown over a hedge and into
The court heard Hunter, who has separated from her long-term partner
over the stress of the accident, received fixed penalty fines for
speeding in 2003 and 2004.
She faced up to 14 years in jail for causing death by dangerous
driving but received an eightmonth suspended sentence and seven-year
driving ban yesterday.
She had pleading guilty in February on the day her trial was due to
She had shown remorse for the tragedy and had tried to commit suicide
several times since.
Judge Anthony Goldstaub QC told her she was responsible for a "short
burst of dangerous activity" - not 'wicked recklessness". "The
defendant, for all her errors, didn't mean to do harm," he said.
"She was guilty of fault, not deliberate wickedness - the fault of
serious negligence with terrible and disproportionate results."
He added: "Apart from the dangers of speed itself, there was the added
peril that the driver was not familiar with this car's particular
handling characteristics, or what the bite of its controls were and
she wore high heel shoes unsuitable for the operation of the pedals."
Judge Goldstaub also praised the "magnanimity" of Miss Riches' family,
saying: "You have not bayed for the defendant's blood, you have
behaved with commendable dignity, strength and moderation in the face
of terrible grief."
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