Politics

Pensioner crushed to death in front of horrified wife in Heathrow crash

A pensioner who crushed a man to death after his hire car trapped him underneath the wheels at Heathrow Airport has been spared jail. US citizen Bill Barber, 71, was killed in the Enterprise Rent-A-Car parking area in front of his horrified wife Linda Lane on Boxing Day, 2018, after the couple had travelled to the UK to attend Ms Lane’s sister’s funeral.

A “slow-moving disaster” had taken place, after driver Jose Amaya-Romero, 72, had attempted to park his vehicle but had forgotten to place it in park mode, leading it to roll forward and hit Mr Barber. At the Old Bailey today (Monday, February 14), the maintenance worker from Virginia was handed a suspended sentence for the tragic incident, with the judge acknowledging his “genuine remorse”.

The court heard that at around 3.15pm on December 26, Mr Barber and his wife had arrived at Heathrow and had visited the car rental firm to collect a Toyota Aygo. After receiving the keys, Mr Barber had been standing on the driver’s side and was adjusting his wife’s seat, when he was struck by the defendant.

Prosecutor Heidi Stonecliffe QC said that at that point, Amaya-Romero had arrived through the wrong entrance of the car park, after driving several hours from Plymouth. He had parked the vehicle, and CCTV footage showed that he was in the process of exiting the car, when it began to slowly creep forward.

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The Toyota Yaris eventually struck a pillar before hitting Mr Barber, causing him to hit the windscreen and fall underneath the front wheels.

Ms Stonecliffe said: “That impact had a catastrophic consequence because Mr Barber was projected up onto the bonnet of Mr Amaya-Romero’s vehicle. He struck the windscreen.”

She noted that Amayo-Romero was “alert to the unfolding situation” and after the initial collision, allowed the vehicle to continue moving, with the rear wheels going over Mr Barber’s body. Members of the public attempted to resuscitate Mr Barber, with two cleaners lifting the car from his body. Those involved had described it as the “most traumatic moment to witness”, whilst Amaya-Romero was taken to the office to be questioned by police.

The court was told that after officers informed Amaya-Romero of Mr Barber’s death, he began to “wail and put his head in his hands”. Ms Stonecliffe said: ”Mr Amaya-Romero certainly wanted to co-operate, I would say when he was told what had happened, his emotions were quite genuine.”

In an emotional victim impact statement which she read aloud to the court, Ms Lane described her husband as a “good-natured, unpretentious and honourable man” who had been left “in pain” as he was trapped under the wheels of the defendant’s car.

She said: “People are shocked and disbelieving when I tell them the circumstances of my husband’s death. Sometimes I hardly believe it myself.” She described the hopes and plans she had with her husband, and said that now “all that love, that closeness, that happiness is gone”.

“I still want to cry when I see a couple walking down the street holding hands, because I will never hold my husband’s hand. We were supposed to live out our final days together,” she said. “I miss him every single day.”

She told Mr Amaya-Romero that she could “never forgive him” and she had decided against hearing or reading the letter he had addressed to both her and the court to express his remorse.

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In his sentencing remarks, Judge Dennis said Mr Barber died as the “consequence of chance events that lasted but seconds”. He said: “The error is plain to see: having positioned his car and thought he had parked his vehicle, the defendant opened his door, in the process of getting out.

“Having left the vehicle in drive, having released his foot from the brake, the car moved forward and there was a panicked reaction in a dreadful spiral which led to collision and death.”

“This will have been a horrific event for Linda Lane to have experienced and witnessed, as it was for others who witnessed it.” Describing it as a “dreadful event”, he said that he recognised the defendant had acted with a “mixture of shock, panic and confusion”.

He was handed a six month prison sentence to be suspended for two years, and was disqualified from driving in the UK for 12 months.

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