Exhausted van driver took life of soldier

A SLEEP-deprived Portuguese van driver who ploughed into the back of a stationary car, killing a soldier, was jailed for two years and eight months yesterday.

Joao-Paulo Agusto Garcia, 32, was under pressure from his bosses and had not taken enough breaks before his Mercedes Sprinter van collided with a Suzuki Swift driven by Air Trooper James Ashdown.

York Crown Court was told Garcia had driven almost 1,500 miles across Portugal, Spain, France and up the UK towards the North East in less than two days with virtually no sleep.

He had delivered car radios to a factory in Tyne and Wear and was making his way back to Portugal when the accident happened last August on the A1(M) near Boroughbridge.

Witnesses described him being tired and irritable and he screeched away from the factory in his van after delivering his load.

Air Trooper Ashdown, 23, an Afghanistan veteran based at RAF Dishforth, had been married for only three months when the tragedy happened.

His seven-month-old daughter Leilah and his wife, Siobhan, who was two months pregnant with their second child, were travelling in the car but escaped uninjured.

His brother-in-law was also in the car and was seriously injured in the crash.

The Recorder of York, Stephen Ashurst, said Garcia had ignored the obvious signs of tiredness when he left the factory after delivering his consignment.

He said: "You caused an almost unbearable tragedy for Mrs Ashdown and she has been left with only memories of a decent husband who was killed in the prime of life and whose death was unnecessary and completely avoidable."

The court was told the family was travelling to Manchester when Mrs Ashdown was taken ill and they stopped on the hard shoulder.

Witnesses described seeing Garcia veering across the road at 70mph as he struggled to stay awake.

Garcia, who pleaded guilty to causing death by dangerous driving, has no memory of the incident and escaped injury in the crash.

His barrister, Alex Offer, said his client was full of remorse but

was under pressure to get back to Portugal and continue his deliveries.

He said: "The defendant accepts his own responsibility.

"Whatever pressures he was put under cannot justify his behaviour."