M1 smart motorway crash witness calls for lorry driver who killed two to be freed

A man who witnessed the moment a lorry killed two people stranded on the live lane of a smart motorway has called for the driver to be freed because “he never stood a chance”.  John Taylor was driving on the M1 when he saw a white truck smash into two stationary vehicles which then hit Jason Mercer and Alexandru Murgeanu who were standing nearby.  Mr Mercer, 44, and Mr Murgeanu, 22, had failed to reach an emergency refuge area after a minor prang and pulled over on the former hard shoulder in June 2019.

Jason Mercer, 44, was killed on a notorious stretch of the M1 that operates as a smart motorway.

Mr Taylor, 65, said he remains deeply upset that Prezemyslaw Szuba, 40, was jailed for their “tragic deaths” because he is convinced he could not have avoided the collision.

Last month, a coroner called for an urgent review into smart motorways claiming scrapping the hard shoulders contributed to the men’s deaths. Speaking publicly about the crash for the first time, Mr Taylor, a property manager, said: “First, I saw the car and the van pulled in with the two men looking like they were exchanging insurance details after an accident.  “I then looked in my rear view mirror and saw the lorry driver desperately trying to swerve out of the way.

He hit and the van came cart-wheeling down the inside lane. “I called 999 and said, ‘those two poor men,’ explaining how ‘the lorry driver had no chance.'” Mr Taylor said when he heard Szuba had been charged with driving without due care and attention he telephoned South Yorkshire Police to say he felt it unfair.

Although he failed to get through that day, two months later he gave a statement to officers at his Nottinghamshire home. “I told them I was not aware of whether the driver had been on the phone, texting or had been drinking, but I was convinced he had no chance of getting out of the way. He would have so little time to see the vehicles.” Mr Taylor said he should have been called as a witness at the crown court sentencing hearing or the inquest because he was one of the few people to see what actually happened.

“They could have played the recording of my reaction just seconds after the collision happened,” he said, adding how “smart motorways” were in fact “dumb” and had there been a hard shoulder the men would have been alive today. The crown court heard Szuba had not been using a telephone or been drinking, but did have five seconds in which to take evasive action after the vehicles came into view. Szuba, originally from Poland but living in Hull, admitted driving without due care and attention. 

A South Yorkshire Police spokesman said more than 70 witness statements were taken, including from Mr Taylor, which formed part of the file submitted to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).

A CPS spokesman said “After careful consideration of all the evidence we determined that there was sufficient evidence to charge Mr Szuba and he pleaded guilty”.