15th Dec, 2018

Jaguar driver was texting at wheel when he killed 57-year-old out enjoying family Christmas

A driver who was exchanging text messages at around the time he ploughed into a pedestrian crossing a main road has been remanded in custody.

Steven Russell had pleaded not guilty to causing the death of 57-year-old Robert Morris, who died three days after being struck by Russell’s Jaguar in December 2016.

But after a total of almost seven hours the jury found him guilty by a majority of 10-1 – after the judge had discharged one juror for a reason which cannot be reported.

Russell (42) of Adelaide Street, Coventry, then pleaded guilty to a further offence of harassment, and the case was adjourned for a pre-sentence report to be prepared on him.

But remanding him in custody, in relation to causing Mr Morris’s death, Judge Andrew Lockhart QC told him: “You will go to custody for that in due course.”

Prosecutor Cathlyn Orchard had told the jury that Mr Morris was crossing Ansty Road at around 11.20pm on Saturday December 17 after leaving the Red Lion pub.

He had been having a Christmas drink with three of his brothers and was on his way to meet another brother at Walsgrave Social Club when he was hit by a car as he crossed the road.

“The defendant was the driver of that car.  He had done nothing to avoid the collision, he hadn’t braked, he hadn’t swerved, he simply drove straight into Robert Morris.”

Miss Orchard said Mr Morris ‘was there to be seen,’ having crossed the two lanes on the opposite side of the road, the central grass verge and the outside lane of the other carriageway before being struck by Russell’s Jaguar in the nearside lane.

“In fact the defendant later told the police he had seen Mr Morris as he traversed the two lanes on the opposite carriageway and running onto the grass verge before crossing onto his side of the carriageway.

“The defendant could and should have taken action to avoid Mr Morris.  The only explanation is that he was not paying attention, that he had been distracted in some way.”

Miss Orchard said that when Russell’s phone was later seized by the police, deleted messages showed the phone ‘had been active around the time of the accident.’

She told the jury: “You will have to consider whether this caused or contributed to his lack of attention.”

The Jaguar hit Mr Morris in the nearside lane, throwing him into the air, and he landed in the road behind the car, after which Russell stopped and called 999.

Mr Morris was rushed by ambulance to University Hospital, suffering from ‘multiple and severe injuries’ from which he died three days later, despite efforts to save him.

Accident investigator Pc Christopher Clarke said that when Mr Morris began to cross Ansty Road, he would have been 85-109 metres ahead of Russell, and even when he began to cross the second carriageway he would have been 39-50 metres ahead.

That would still have given Russell 2.2 to 2.8 seconds to react – but he had not braked at all before the impact.

Miss Orchard pointed out Russell had made the 999 call two minutes and 40 seconds after sending a text – and had received a response just 36 seconds before the emergency call, although he had not opened it until afterwards.

When he was interviewed Russell said he does not send messages when he is driving, but had sent one while he was waiting at a red light and had then put his phone down, and he claimed he had not been distracted by it.

Questioning him in court, Miss Orchard put to him that he had been sacked as an HGV driver for using his phone at the wheel.

Russell claimed that although he had been sacked, he had been stuck for two-and-a-half hours on the motorway and was not moving at the time, but that the company had been ‘looking to making people redundant.’

Miss Orchard asked him: “Are you forgetting the other time when you were using a phone at the wheel?  Were you driving while filming?”

Russell said that was when he was on a slip road and there had been an accident, which he had recorded using Bluetooth.

“You were using a phone to record an accident which you then loaded onto social media.  You did this all the time while driving a lorry,” Miss Orchard put to him.

Russell responded that it was not ‘social media,’ but an HGV forum, adding: “I wasn’t touching the phone.”

The texts he had sent and received just before he hit Mr Morris had been deleted before the police seized his phone, but he denied deleting them in a bid to prevent the police finding them.

But of the collision, Russell added angrily: “Do you seriously think I intended to do this?  I had no intention of hitting that poor man and destroying two lives.

“I strongly resent it being suggested I hit that man deliberately. It was a freak accident. Two lives and two families were destroyed that night.”

After the jury had returned its verdicts, the court heard the harassment offence involved Russell threatening his daughter’s partner in phone calls, texts and by turning up at his home.

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