Former soldier jailed for six months after life-long friend was impaled when car smashed into fence and died days later

A former gunner who killed his friend when he ploughed his car into a fence then drove off has been jailed.

Friday, 14th February 2020, 4:23 pm
Updated Friday, 14th February 2020, 5:04 pm

Michael Armstrong, 35, died in hospital three days after the crash that left him impaled by a fence panel at Philadelphia, Houghton.

Christopher Sanderson, 35, who was behind the wheel of the Vauxhall Zafira on February 16 last year, has now been jailed for six months at Newcastle Crown Court.

Christopher Rose, prosecuting said Sanderson gave his five passengers, including his wife and Mr Armstrong, a lift home from the Philadelphia pub where they had left at about 11:20pm.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Christopher Sanderson

The court heard how the collision then occurred 170 metres down the road.

Mr Rose said: "In what was a short journey he lost control of that vehicle, driving it into a fence and as a result the car suffered catastrophic damage and Michael Armstrong was very badly injured."

The court heard how the fence was 6ft-tall, made up of wooden panels and the collision "demolished" approximately 20 metres of it, resulting in some of the panels penetrating the car.

Mr Rose added that damage was also caused to a house when parts of the fence landed on it.

The damaged vehicle.

He said: "Despite what had happened to the vehicle, the defendant reversed back into the carriageway."

Mr Rose said that in his statement, one of the other passengers "described the atmosphere in the car as one of shock.

He added: "At that stage it was not obvious to those around Mr Armstrong that he had been hurt and indeed he had been very badly hurt."

The court heard how Sanderson drove the "extensively damaged" vehicle 0.85 miles to Ross Lea in Shiney Row near his mother's house, where he was described as "panicking" and told his passengers to get out.

At this point Mr Rose said one of the passengers "thought there was a plank that was stuck in Michael Armstrong's chest" but he was able to get out of the car before collapsing on the pavement.

Realising the seriousness of the injury, the passengers banged on Sanderson's mother's door to get her to call an ambulance.

Mr Armstrong was taken to the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle where he underwent surgery but died of multiple organ failure on February 19.

Mr Rose said: "In the moment, the defendant had, rather than staying, driven away from the scene."

The court heard how Sanderson had driven away with his wife and the three male passengers followed them in another vehicle before a confrontation between the groups occurred on Histon Crescent South in Houghton.

From there, Sanderson drove to Cumbria and he was arrested in Carlisle four days later.

In his police interview, Mr Rose told the court that Sanderson gave a prepared statement in which he said his passengers in the back were noisy and one had prodded him in the head and so he turned around to stop them.

After the collision, he said he had asked everyone if they were okay before thinking that "his car was driveable, he decided to drive everyone home."

The court heard that prosecution witnesses did not support that there had been any commotion in the back seats.

Michael Amstong's 18-year-old daughter Rebecca read a statement to the court.

She explained that she had not grown up with him around due to him being in prison, but that the two had a strong relationship and she was devastated by his death.

Rebecca said: "He was going to start afresh and turn his life around.

"He was extremely positive that he wasn't going to prison again."

She described Mr Armstrong as polite, friendly and sociable and explained she had spoken to her dad before he went to the pub that evening.

She said: "Unbeknown to me, that when Michael said goodbye at the end of this call, it was a goodbye forever.

"We are torn between wanting to remember and forget.

"How can this have happened, why did it have to be a fatal accident?

"I will see images in my mind of my father in hospital as he passed away.

"We didn't get a chance to say goodbye to Michael.

"We miss Michael everyday and will do for the rest of our lives."

David Lamb, defending said: "The defendant accepts and acknowledges that nothing can be advanced by way of mitigation today, can assist Mr Armstrong's family who has complied and read to this court and extremely emotional and heartfelt statement.

"He deeply wishes that he could turn back the clock to the events of February 16 last year to alter what appears to have begun as an act of kindness and generosity in offering the group including his friend Michael Armstrong a lift, into one of unimaginable tragedy."

Mr Lamb said Sanderson and Mr Armstrong had been friends their whole lives and that his death had a "huge impact" on the defendant.

He said: "He will have to live with the consequences of his actions for the rest of his life on a daily basis."

Mr Lamb said that Mr Armstrong had not indicated he was injured and no-one else in the car was aware of the fact.

He added: "Had Mr Sanderson realised he would not have driven any further and would have stopped and sought medical assistance for his friend."

Mr Lamb added that Sanderson was the registered keeper of the vehicle and he believed this meant he was insured to drive it.

The court heard how Sanderson has five children, aged between three and 14-years-old and he had served in the British Army as a gunner between 2001 and 2005 before being medically discharged.

Mr Lamb said Sanderson was now "unable to work due to an injury incurred to his back in 2017", which left him with symptoms affecting him sporadically.

Sanderson, of Claremont Drive, Shiney Row, pleaded guilty to causing death by careless driving, causing death by driving while uninsured, failing to report an accident, failing to stop after an accident, dangerous driving and no insurance.

Judge Robert Spragg said: "You should have stopped, you would have been able to stop. You didn't.

"Your car had suffered obvious and extensive damage.

"Three pieces of wooden fending were forced through the car.

"One striking the deceased in the stomach area.

"No-one realised, apparently the deceased had suffered an injury at that point."

Judge Spragg said he had taken the mitigating factors into account and said: "You have shown clear remorse throughout the interview with the probation services.

"You say you were distracted by commotion in the back, although it is accepted that you should have stopped."

The judge referred to Mr Armstrong's family and said: "I am aware that any sentence that I pass in accordance with the guidelines will feel inadequate."

Sanderson was also disqualified from driving for three years following his release and will be made to take an extended test.