A LEARNER driver who crashed and killed a nine-year-old girl after getting behind the wheel of a car for the first time has been jailed for two years.
Beatrice Mawamba was beginning a driving lesson with her husband in a Vauxhall Astra recently bought for her and lost control when she put it into gear.
Leeds Crown Court heard yesterday the vehicle careered across the pavement, into a narrow alley and down steps on to a grassed courtyard in Leopold Grove, Chapeltown, Leeds, sending children who were playing there fleeing in front of her.
Shamirah Grant died after she was crushed under the vehicle and two other children were injured, one seriously, before it came to rest against the corner of a house.
The court heard that, although Mawamba had a provisional licence, she had only done theory lessons online, had never driven before and did not know which pedal was the brake.
Mawamba, 34, a mother-of- three who lived close to the scene, admitted causing the death of Shamirah by dangerous driving on May 31.
Jailing her and banning her from driving for five years, Mr Justice Openshaw said setting off when ignorant of the most basic principles of driving amounted to a “thoughtless disregard for the safety of others”.
“In my judgment a prison sentence is necessary to impress upon others that driving a car without having any idea how to control it is seriously anti-social and presents a substantial risk to the public and such behaviour must strongly be discouraged.”
Shamirah’s devastated parents Gary and Jennifer Grant were in court during the case and the judge said he had read of the impact on them of the death of a much-loved child and was aware that no sentence would ease their loss.
Michael Smith, prosecuting, said the children described playing in the early evening and seeing a man and woman in a green car in Leopold Grove, with the man giving her “some sort of instructions”.
“The children variously heard the engine revving and stutter and it came flying down towards them fast into the alley and into the courtyard.”
Witnesses described how it was “bunny hopping” before Mawamba lost control and veered towards the alley. Investigations later showed it lost one wing mirror striking an electricity substation before it entered the alley, down steps colliding with the wall, losing the other wing mirror, before entering the courtyard, and had travelled a further 25 metres (yards) before stopping.
Mr Smith said Mawamba had told police her husband had explained the controls to her and told her to put it into first gear but as soon as she did the car moved forward.
“She described the car going very fast and her husband telling her to brake but she did not know how to. Her husband also tried to stop the car but couldn’t.”
A 13-year-old girl who suffered a serious injury to her right foot in the incident, subsequently needed surgery, while another girl suffered abrasions.
Graham Parkin, for Mawamba, said his client was remorseful and remained “extremely distressed” by the tragedy. When the car moved off “there seems to have been general panic within the vehicle.”
“She wishes, of course, she could turn back the clock and that it never happened,” he added.
After the case Shamirah‘s parents condemned the cold and calculating way they felt the case was dealt with by the judge in court. “He did not seem to appreciate how that affected us.”
They said, however, they had forgiven those present in the vehicle which veered dangerously out of control “unfortunately killing our daughter and injuring two of her friends.
“We appreciate that such a terrible event was not intentional. We have not sought to influence the sentencing of the court in any way and accept that the driver is sincerely remorseful, being a mother of three herself.
“Nevertheless, Shamirah’s death has left a heart-rending gap within our family’s lives and, in a lasting legacy to her name, we intend to go forward positively by creating opportunities which will use performing arts, which was Shamirah’s passion, to empower young people educationally, and hopefully make a change in their lives.
“Since Shamirah’s passing we have adopted the symbol of the butterfly which metamorphoses from a caterpillar to a beautiful butterfly, whose life although short-lived graces a summer’s day with her beautiful elegance.
“So it’s hoped that through the spirit of our beautiful but short-lived daughter, we too can bring change for the better.”