Fatal M1 crash near Sheffield may have been ‘avoidable’ with hard shoulder, inquest told

A lorry driver who killed two men when his truck ploughed into their vehicles on a stretch of smart motorway has told an inquest he believes he would have avoided them if there had been a hard shoulder.

Monday, 18th January 2021, 3:01 pm

Jason Mercer, 44, and Alexandru Murgeanu, 22, died when a lorry driven by Prezemyslaw Szuba crashed into their vehicles after they stopped on a stretch of the M1 near Sheffield, an inquest into their deaths was told.

Szuba, 40, from Hull, was jailed for 10 months in October last year after admitting causing the deaths of Mr Mercer and Mr Murgeanu by careless driving.

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L-R: Jason Mercer and Alexandru Murgeanu were tragically killed in an M1 crash

Answering questions over the phone from prison, Szuba told the hearing he accepted he was driving without paying proper attention, telling a coroner: “I have already accepted that at my trial.”

But he told the inquest: “If there had been a hard shoulder on this bit of motorway, the collision would have been avoidable.

“I would have driven past these two cars as it would be safer and they would have been able to come home safely and I would be able to come back home.”

Szuba told the inquest at Sheffield Town Hall he had only three to five seconds to react, and asked if he would have avoided the crash if he had been paying attention, he said: “It’s difficult to say after everything now.”

He also confirmed that he had no specific training in driving on a smart motorway.

Sergeant Mark Brady, who oversees major collision investigations for South Yorkshire Police, told the hearing: “Had there been a hard shoulder, had Jason and Alexandru pulled on to the hard shoulder, my opinion is that Mr Szuba would have driven clean past them.”

But Sgt Brady accepted that the primary cause of the crash was Szuba’s inattention to the road.

The hearing heard how the tragedy happened on June 7 2019 after a slight collision between a Ford Focus driven by Mr Mercer, from Rotherham, South Yorkshire, and a Ford Transit driven by Mr Murgeanu, who was living in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, but was originally from Romania.

The two vehicles stopped in lane one of the four-lane motorway just north of junction 34, on the northbound carriageway, and both men had got out of their vehicles.

Coroner David Urpeth was told the vehicles had been stationary for about six minutes when they were hit by Szuba’s Mercedes lorry, which was travelling at a speed-regulated 56mph.

Mr Mercer’s wife Claire, who has been a prominent campaigner against smart motorways since her husband’s death, watched proceedings in court with her legal team.

Speaking after Szuba was sentenced, she said: “We don’t believe the correct person is taking responsible for this massive detrimental effect on ours and so many other people’s lives.

“The events of June 7, 2019, would not have taken place if there had been a hard shoulder...”

Andrew Smith, representing Szuba, said at his sentencing hearing: “The defendant has always accepted that his negligence, his lack of concentration of three, four, five seconds prior was a significant cause of this accident. But it was not the only cause.”

Warning signs above the motorway were not activated after the collision.

In these confusing and worrying times, local journalism is more vital than ever. Thanks to everyone who helps us ask the questions that matter by taking out a digital subscription or buying a paper. We stand together. Nancy Fielder, editor.