Former Topsham town crier jailed for causing partner’s death in wheelchair tragedy

PUBLISHED: 10:20 12 November 2018 | UPDATED: 10:59 12 November 2018

Exeter Crown Court. Picture: Archant

Exeter Crown Court. Picture: Archant


A carer whose partner died when she fell out of her wheelchair in his van has been jailed for dangerous driving.

Former town crier Keith Smith was two and a half times over the legal drive limit when he drove home with Maureen King in an unsecured wheelchair.

The multiple sclerosis sufferer was tipped out of the chair when he braked sharply and died eight days later in hospital as a result of her injuries.

Smith and 74-year-old Maureen had been together for 30 years and he became her full time carer when she was struck down with MS.

They had previously run Denleys Wine Bar in Topsham together and he had gone on to become the town crier.

The couple had been out for dinner at a pub on Exeter Quay on the night of September 3, 2017, and were driving back to their home in Denver Road, Topsham, when the accident happened near the Countess Wear Roundabout.

Smith was so drunk that he had to be supported by two police officers after returning home and calling the emergency services. He later gave a breath sample of 92 microgrammes, more than double the legal limit of 35. He admitted having drunk at least a bottle of red wine.

He told police that Maureen had refused to have her wheelchair restrained and they only used the specially designed straps when making longer journeys.

Police tests showed the chair was extremely unstable and could have tipped over at a speed of just 7 mph.

Maureen’s three children made victim impact statements in which they said he had never apologised or showed remorse for her death.

Smith, aged 74, now of Bowd Court, Sidmouth, admitted causing death by dangerous driving and while uninsured and was jailed for two years and four months by Judge Peter Johnson at Exeter Crown Court.

He told him:”In short, this was an accident waiting to happen and so it was that when you braked sharply, and this is a tragedy, Mrs King suffered a number of fractures that contributed to her death.”

Mr William Hunter, prosecuting, said Smith drove home after the accident and called the emergency services when he was unable to move Maureen. Paramedics notified the police and he was breathalysed just after midnight.

Maureen refused to go to hospital at the time but her condition deteriorated and an ambulance was called at 2.42am. She had suffered a broken collar bone, fractured ribs and a collapsed lung.

Mr Barry White, defending, said nothing would be gained by locking up an elderly man in poor health who had already suffered by losing his partner of 30 years.

He said there had been no link between Smith’s intoxication and the accident and there had been nothing wrong with his driving. The offence arose solely because of the condition of the van and the failure to secure the wheelchair.

He said Smith is a man of positive good character who has contributed to the community and who had received letters of support, including one from the local rugby club.

He said Smith has shown remorse and is sorry for causing Maureen’s death but that this was not always apparent because of his ‘stiff upper lip’ attitude.

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