Epileptic man jailed for losing control of his car and killing a dog walker in Leamington after being warned that he was ‘utterly unfit to drive’

Jailing him for four years and two months, a judge told him he had acted ‘recklessly and selfishly’ in continuing to drive after suffering an earlier blackout

Friday, 19th March 2021, 8:45 pm
Updated Friday, 19th March 2021, 8:48 pm

An epileptic man who knew he was ‘utterly unfit to drive’ killed a woman walking her dog when he lost control of his car after suffering a fit and crashing into her and her partner.

And jailing him for four years and two months, a judge told Avtar Singh Lota he had acted ‘recklessly and selfishly’ in continuing to drive after suffering an earlier blackout.

Lota (63) of Campion Road, Leamington, had pleaded guilty at Warwick Crown Court to causing Emer Grace O’Malley’s death and serious injury to her partner Mark Catherill by dangerous driving.

Avtar Singh Lota.

Prosecutor Stefan Kolodynski said the couple were struck by Lota’s Mercedes C220 at 7.35pm on December 17 2019.

He said: "“The defendant, given his long and well-established history of epilepsy, deliberately drove his vehicle knowing there was a high risk of him having an epileptic fit at the wheel.

"He drove, and ignored the high risk he posed. It was a recognisable and foreseeable risk on the part of the defendant.”

Mrs O’Malley and Mr Catherill were taking their dog for a walk, and were crossing the junction of Rugby Road and Guys Cliffe Road after waiting for the green man at the traffic lights.

Lota was on his way home from visiting his mother in a Warwick care home when his Mercedes veered across the road and struck a parked car before mounting the kerb.

Travelling along the pavement, it then forced its way between a line of parked cars and garden walls, damaging seven of the vehicles and several walls and fences.

It returned to the road, narrowly missing two pedestrians as Mrs O’Malley and Mr Catherill also retreated to the pavement in a bid to keep out of its path.

By then Lota, who had been doing 22mph when he first lost control, was doing 32mph as his foot pressed on the accelerator.

The Mercedes crossed the junction, collided with the traffic lights and uprooted a concrete post before crashed into the couple with such force that Mrs O’Malley was thrown into the garden of a neighbouring house.

Her injuries were so severe that a doctor who arrived by air ambulance pronounced her dead at the scene, and Mr Catherill had injuries including a broken femur.

When Lota was interviewed after being arrested the next day he confirmed he suffered from temporal lobe epilepsy, and had been suffering from quite acute headaches for five or six days.

And Mr Kolodynski observed: “He had a long history of epilepsy, as well as regular and repeated warnings about driving and operating machinery.”

Judge Barry Berlin commented: “The point is, he’s not fit to drive. When he gets into a car he could at any stage have such a fit, and did. He knew perfectly well he should not be driving.”

Mr Kolodynski said Lota’s epilepsy was first diagnosed in 1979, and in 1994 a neurologist warned him about driving.

He had had previous collisions, one in July 2016 after he had failed to tell his insurance company about his epilepsy, and another in September 2018 when he had mounted the pavement and collided with traffic lights and a bollard.

Following an adjournment to check whether that was also a result of his epilepsy, Christopher Martin, for Lota, said he had blacked out, but did not accept it was an epileptic fit.

Judge Barry Berlin said: “In 2018 he had a collision and mounted the pavement in almost the precise circumstances as in the present case. This was a blackout and could have been epileptic. Whether it was or not doesn’t matter, it was a further warning not to drive.”

Mr Martin said Lota, an electronics engineer, had developed epilepsy after a racist attack when he was a child, but for most of his life it had been controlled by medication.

He said: “It is with some regret that he found himself driving in December 2019. He desperately regrets that decision. He apologises profusely for his actions which led to this fatal collision. He is deeply remorseful for the pain he has caused.”

Jailing Lota, Judge Berlin told him: “The background is that you have right temporal lobe epilepsy.

“That is not a mitigating factor, because you knew about that condition. You were given medical advice not to drive. You were warned about this problem as far back as 1995.

“You knew the dangers you were creating to the general public by driving. Just a year before this particular accident you had a very similar accident. It is not clear whether that was epilepsy, but it was certainly a blackout.

“On this occasion we know it was an epileptic seizure. You acted recklessly and selfishly by failing to self-assess when the warning signs were clear to you.

“You must have known after September 2018 that you were utterly unfit to drive, but you did nothing to avoid driving and ignored warnings not to do so.

“For them, it seems, there was no escape at all. You struck Emer O’Malley with such force that she was catapulted into a nearby garden and died instantly, and Mr Catherill escaped death, but he did not escape serious injury.”