A YOUNG woman was severely injured and four valuable show dogs, including a Crufts winner, were killed when an articulated lorry ploughed into a motor home on the hard shoulder of the M40 near Gaydon.
The £96,000 motor home virtually disintegrated, throwing debris and the dogs’ cages across the motorway between junctions 11 and 12 in south Warwickshire.
And at Warwick Crown Court artic driver Russell Walsh pleaded guilty to causing serious injury to 20-year-old Anastasia Egorova in November last year by dangerous driving.
Walsh, of Cambridge Street, Stockport, was jailed for eight months and banned from driving for two-and-a-half years, after which he will have to take an extended test to get his licence back.
Prosecutor Aliya Rashid said Anastasia, a Russian national who worked for dog breeders Caroline Russell-Smith and Lisa Croft-Elliott, who had a specially-equipped mobile home.
The expensive vehicle had various extras installed, and was used to travel to dog shows across the UK and Europe, spending up to nine weeks at a time living in it.
The dogs were housed in the vehicle in aircraft-grade cages, which cost over £600 each, and there were even facilities to carry out veterinary procedure on-board.
But at 5.40 in the morning on November 23 last year, as they were travelling between shows with 11 dogs, the motor home broke down on the M40 northbound between junctions 11 and 12.
They parked on the hard shoulder, put on the hazard warning lights and called the RAC for assistance before waiting in the vehicle for help to arrive.
Some time later another driver was following 38 year-old Walsh’s artic as it also travelled north on the M40 and became concerned and dropped back when Walsh suddenly swerved onto the hard shoulder and back into the nearside lane.
It swerved another couple of times and without slowing or braking at all, Walsh ploughed into the mobile home ‘and just drove through it,’ and debris from the vehicle, as well as the dog cages, was thrown across the motorway.
Anastasia, who had been in the back with the dogs, was thrown into the front, suffering severe multiple injuries which included three fractured vertebrae, a head injury and six broken ribs, while the other two women suffered less serious injuries.
Four dogs died as a result of the collision, while others suffered spinal and other injuries.
Among those who died were Rage, who had won best toy poodle at Crufts in 2012, and Eva, a Chinese crested powderpuff which had won five breed records.
Sweetie, a Cardigan corgi, was hit by a car as she ran off after her cage was smashed open by the impact; while Suka, another Cardigan corgi, was rescued after running to the central reservation but had to be put down.
Ms Russell-Smith said Anastasia, who was known as Twinkie, had only arrived from Russia the day before – and the court heard she has since returned and is at university in Russia, but still suffering from her injuries.
And Ms Russell-Smith, who suffered compressed vertebrae, added the dogs were like their children and losing them had been devastating.
Walsh’s tachograph showed he was doing 56mph at the point of impact. He said he did not see the motor home, but complained it had been parked too close to the edge of the hard shoulder.
Milena Bennett, defending, said: “He was not driving fast, and he did not deliberately drive onto the hard shoulder.
“He accepts the loss of concentration is what caused the accident and caused the injuries.
“He is a dog-lover. He has a dog himself, and every time he looks at his dog, he is reminded of those dogs which have lost their lives unnecessarily.”
Jailing Walsh, Judge Griffith-Jones told him: “I accept you had normally been a careful and well-qualified driver of an articulated lorry, and that you have pleaded guilty at the first available opportunity.
“But we all have to understand the importance of not driving dangerously. Those who drive heavy artic lorries have to know in particular the imperative not to drive dangerously.”