A LORRY driver who killed a “much- loved” Sunderland man on the motorway walked free from court.
Christopher Lewis was given community work after a jury at Teesside Crown Court cleared him of causing the death of Gordon Blair by dangerous driving, but convicted him of the lesser charge of causing death by careless driving.
Mr Blair was a nurse at the Ashwood Court nursing home, in Suffolk Street, Sunderland.
The 50-year-old was standing next to his broken down car in lane one of the A1(M), near the A59 junction, when he was hit by Lewis’s 44-tonne Scania on December 28, last year.
Andrew Campbell, mitigating for Mr Lewis, said: “Some of the witnesses described the actions of Mr Blair as near suicidal, and those words were sadly proved to be prophetic.
“One does not seek to blame Mr Lewis for this in any way, but colleagues at the nursing home remarked he was behaving oddly in the days and weeks leading up to the accident.
“It appears he had very little sleep on his nightshift before setting out that day, and medication for depression may not have helped his general condition.”
The jury heard that driver Lewis, 43, of Chantry Road, Northallerton, had a sneezing fit as he approached Mr Blair and his broken-down Almera.
Experts calculated Mr Lewis had a clear view of at least 300 metres to the car, but he did not brake until 11 metes before he hit it.
Mr Campbell added: “Until this tragic accident Mr Lewis had led a blameless and hardworking life.
“He had been a lorry driver for 21 years and had driven around two million miles without incident.”
Judge Peter Bowers sentenced Lewis to 250 hours of community work and banned him from driving for one year.
The judge said: “The victim was a much-loved man who will be an enormous loss to his parents and family.
“That is often so in cases like these, and they get no easier for me as my years pass on the bench.
“There is no doubt this was an exceptional accident, and I think the circumstances of Mr Blair being on the carriageway will remain a mystery.
“Perhaps the driver’s most crucial mistake was not slowing when the sneezing started, or knocking off the cruise control, for that would have given him a better chance of avoiding the car, as others did.”
Mr Blair’s family were present throughout the four-day trial, but were not in court to hear the verdict or sentence being passed.