Suffolk

Trimley St Martin level crossing crash: 'Reckless' driver James Wheeler spared jail

The car was hit by a freight train Image copyright BTP
Image caption James Wheeler's baby daughter had to be rescued from the car after the crash

A "reckless" driver who crashed into a freight train at a level crossing with his baby daughter in the car has been spared an immediate jail term.

James Wheeler, 35, swerved closing barriers at Trimley St Martin, Suffolk.

He said he had been trying to escape a group of cyclists after one threw a stone at his car during an altercation.

He admitted endangering safety and was jailed for 16 months, suspended for a year, and given 240 hours' unpaid work and a two-year driving ban.

Wheeler, of Adastral Close, Felixstowe, Suffolk, said he made the "split-second decision" to swerve the barriers at the Thorpe Lane crossing on 9 June, 2018.

But as he did so, a freight train smashed into his Peugeot 307 car, Ipswich Crown Court heard.

Image caption James Wheeler was sentenced at Ipswich Crown Court

Wheeler's daughter, then 18 months old, was rescued from the car's back seat by Lloyd Welham, who lives nearby and was alerted by a "loud bang".

Det Con Alan Reed, of British Transport Police (BTP), said: "I would say in my 30 years' experience with BTP this is the worst incident of driving I've dealt with.

"It is a miracle that no-one was badly injured or killed."

Daniel Taylor, mitigating, said Wheeler felt "genuine remorse" and still suffered from nightmares because of the crash.

Image caption Wheeler said he had made a "split-second" decision to swerve the barriers

Judge Rupert Overbury called Wheeler's driving "reckless" but said it was not in the public interest to jail him immediately.

"It has affected you in ways that are going to last a very long time, especially the guilt you will have for risking your daughter's life," he said.

The estimated cost of cancelling 29 trains after the crash was more than £55,500, the court heard.

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