M1 fatal crash driver 'may have been on autopilot', court told

A Fed Ex driver who smashed into the back of a minibus in a crash in which
eight people died may have been suffering from a type of blindness, a court has heard.

David Wagstaff, 54, was on the phone to a fellow lorry driver for around an hour with his vehicle on cruise control when the crash on the M1 happened in the early hours of August 26 last year.

Defence collision investigator Robert Wagstaff  - who is not related to his namesake - told Reading Crown Court on Tuesday that he thought the defendant was on "autopilot", and part of the reason he crashed into the minibus was because he was suffering from "inattentional blindness", where an individual without any visual problems fails to see something that is in plain sight.

The witness said the phenomenon occurs when someone is concentrating on something else, like a mobile phone conversation, even if it is being used in a hands free situation, as the defendant claims it was.

In a police interview Wagstaff said he did not see the minibus' hazard lights, and thought the vehicle was moving, when it was actually stationary.

The court heard that when a lorry in front of Wagstaff indicated and moved into another lane of the motorway to avoid the minibus, the defendant had an unobstructed view of the eventual crash site for 250 metres and nine to 11 seconds.

It would have taken 63 metres and five seconds for the lorry to brake to a halt.

The prosecution's own collision investigator, Stephen Moffat, told the court: "He should be aware that there's something in the road ahead of him, but he did nothing for nine seconds, absolutely nothing, he didn't even think to try a last minute stab, nothing at all."

In a police interview, Wagstaff claimed he "swerved" at the last minute to avoid the crash, but Mr Moffat said: "There's certainly no evidence of him having done so."

The court heard that evidence showed Wagstaff, whose cruise control was set at 56 miles per hour, ploughed straight into the minibus without braking.

Mr Moffat added: "There's no evidence that he reacted at all."

Wagstaff crashed into a minibus driven by Cyriac Joseph, who was waiting with his hazard lights on for the chance to go around a second lorry, driven by Ryszard Masierak.

When Wagstaff hit the minibus, which was taking passengers from Nottingham to London to catch a coach to Disneyland, it was forced into and under Masierak's lorry.

The Polish driver, 32, was allegedly stationary for 12 minutes in the slow lane of the motorway at around 3am on the day of the incident, despite there being miles of hard shoulder available.

He is accused of being twice over the drink-drive limit.

The fatalities, six men and two women, were Mr Joseph, Panneerselvam Annamalai, Rishi Ranjeev Kumar, Vivek Baskaran, Lavanyalakshmi Seetharaman, Karthikeyan Pugalur Ramasubramanian, Subramaniyan Arachelvan and Tamilmani Arachelvan.

Four other minibus passengers, including a four-year-old  girl, were seriously injured in the collision on the southbound M1, near Milton Keynes.

Wagstaff, from Stoke, has pleaded guilty to eight charges of causing death by careless driving and four counts of careless driving.

Masierak and Wagstaff both deny eight counts each of causing death by dangerous driving, and four counts each of causing serious injury by dangerous driving.

Masierak, of Evesham, Worcestershire, faces a further eight charges of causing death by careless driving, while over the prescribed alcohol limit.

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