19th Mar, 2018

Man jailed for baby daughter's death in car after taking hands off wheel

Editorial Correspondent 10th Mar, 2018 Updated: 10th Mar, 2018

A father whose baby daughter was tragically killed when he crashed his partner’s car into a fence after taking his hands off the wheel to turn round to her has been jailed.

Little Amelie Houanda had suffered catastrophic head injuries when the car left the road and a section of the fence it crashed into came through the windscreen and hit her.

Her father Armel Houanda pleaded guilty at Warwick Crown Court to causing 20-month-old Amelie’s death by dangerous driving on the B4114 Smockington Lane at Wolvey in June last year.

Houanda (39) of Victoria Street, Coventry, who also admitted taking his partner Jemma Tomkinson’s hired Audi Q3 Sport without consent and driving with no insurance or full licence, was jailed for two years and eight months.

Prosecutor Graeme Simpson said: “This is, even by the standards of this sort of case, a tragic case.”

Houanda, who only had a provisional licence, put Amelie in a child seat and set off to drive a friend to Leicester and back home when he lost control.

A later investigation indicated that there had been no excessive speed, but no braking before the crash.

Mr Simpson said that people who stopped to try to assist saw Houanda standing in the road cradling his child in his arms.

Little Amelie was rushed to University Hospital in Coventry by air ambulance, but despite attempts to save her, she died two-and-a-half hours later.

When Houanda was later interviewed, he explained that Amelie had freed her arms from the child seat’s restraint, and he had taken his hands off the steering wheel and turned round to assist her, worried that she would wriggle out of the seat.

He entered his guilty plea on the basis that he had been looking back for 1-3 seconds before the car left the road, and he accepted he should have stopped before turning round.

Judge Anthony Potter commented: “He turned and took his hands off the wheel. On any assessment that is dangerous.

“He had no right not only to drive that vehicle, but to drive at all; but there is the significant mitigating factor that it was his daughter who died.”

Mr Simpson added that Houanda had a previous conviction in 2010 for taking a car without consent and driving with no insurance and not in accordance with his provisional licence.

Simon Hunka, defending, said: “He has, of course, never denied responsibility for what happened.

“He, essentially, is using the words ‘do with me what you will.’ He says that simply because his view is that, given what has happened and the loss he has suffered, albeit as a result of an act of his, nothing the court can do can add, in his view, to what he is already experiencing.”

Asking the judge to consider an alternative to immediate custody, Mr Hunka argued: “I submit this is a case that, despite the aggravating features, could still fall into the category of an exceptional case.”

But Judge Potter responded: “Had he not driven, as he was not supposed to, this accident would not have happened. He had failed his theory test on four occasions, and had been prosecuted before for driving when he should not have, and using someone else’s vehicle when he should not have.”

Mr Hunka continued: “The impact upon him of losing his daughter is unimaginable, and the fact it was a result of something he did is something he has to deal with.”

He pointed out that Houanda and Miss Tomkinson were not in a relationship at that time, but far from driving them further apart, they were providing support for each-other.

Jailing Houanda, and banning him from driving for nine years and four months, Judge Potter told him: “The sad fact is that there is nothing I can do by way of sentence which will reflect the loss of your daughter to her mother or to you.

“The journey you took was not a short one, and the tragic fact is that on your way back you removed both hands from the wheel and turned round to deal with an issue with your daughter.

“You do not appear to have made any attempt to stop the vehicle or to have slowed down. Instead you looked backwards for a matter of seconds, and in doing so lost control and, having left the carriageway, collided with a fence.

“The fence post entered the cabin, causing catastrophic injuries to your daughter, who sadly died later that afternoon.

“I am quite prepared to accept you will never forget the 22nd of June last year, and your responsibility for what happened.

“You express real remorse to the author of the pre-sentence report, in which it is clear your concerns were not for your immediate future, but for the effect on Miss Tomkinson.”

But he added that the sentence was not one that could be suspended.

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