Disqualified and uninsured driver jailed after causing death of cherished Cambridgeshire war veteran, 95
A disqualified, uninsured driver who knocked down a cherished war veteran, and then left the UK after he died, has been jailed.
Ricardas Prismantas, 54, struck 95-year-old Alonzo Smart at low speed as he pushed a small shopping trolley across Carter Street, in Fordham, at about 8.45am on December 2, 2019.
Mr Smart, of New Path, Fordham, was taken to hospital with a serious head injury and rib fractures, but was later discharged to a local rehabilitation centre in Newmarket.
Prismantas was spoken to at the scene where he told officers he “didn’t notice” Mr Smart crossing the road and had been driving his van at about 10mph. He was arrested on suspicion of careless driving and driving whilst disqualified.
Further checks revealed he was driving while uninsured and disqualified, with his disqualification due to end that month.
In interview, he told police he was helping a friend collect bags of clothes for charity in the area and said Mr Smith “came out of nowhere”. He added that he did not realise he was disqualified from driving.
Prismantas admitted the offences and was ordered to complete 200 hours of unpaid work and disqualified from driving for 18 months at Cambridge Magistrates’ Court one week after the collision.
However, on Christmas Day, Mr Smart was re-admitted to hospital after his health deteriorated. He died at just before 5pm on 2 January last year. A doctor noted his cause of death as bronchopneumonia due to his multiple injuries caused by the collision.
Victim impact statements from Mr Smart's family and friends, which were read out in court, revealed Mr Smart served in WW2 as a paratrooper fighting in Europe. He also took part in the liberation of Singapore and after the war, served in Palestine and Malaysia.
Friends also described how they had shown him the safest place to cross the road as he enjoyed his little bit of independence in doing his morning shopping, the only task he did on his own.
Prismantas, of Dryleys Court, Northampton, was served a postal requisition charging him with causing death by careless or inconsiderate driving, causing death by driving whilst disqualified and causing death by driving while uninsured.
However, checks revealed he had left the country and a European Arrest Warrant was issued. He was arrested in Lithuania and pleaded guilty at Cambridge Crown Court on 20 August after being extradited back to the UK.
Prismantas was sentenced at the same court on Friday (8 October) where he was handed one year in prison and disqualified from driving for 18 months.
Archangelo Power, mitigating, said the collision was a “terrible and tragic” accident caused by a momentary lapse of concentration.
He said Prismantas had been left “crushed” by the collision which cost an “elderly and much-loved local serviceman” his life, and added that he was genuinely remorseful.
Mr Power said his defendant had pleaded guilty at the earliest opportunity and since then had spent his time in “23-hour lockdown” in HMP Peterborough.
He urged Judge Farrell to consider a suspended sentence, adding that Prismantas “mistakenly believed” he was not disqualified from driving as he had changed addresses and the documentation had been sent to his old address.
He also added that Prismantas was eager to return to Lithuania as he was the only one to care for his 82-year-old mother.
Sentencing, Judge David Farrell QC told Prismantas that he should not have been driving at all because he was disqualified.
He added: “You failed to see Mr Smart, but a careful and competent driver would have done. He was crossing the road and another car stopped to allow him to do so.
“You have heard the victim personal statements read out as to the loss suffered as a result of his death. This court can’t turn the clocks back and no sentence that is imposed by any court can reflect the loss of human life.
“You say you didn’t receive the notification of your disqualification, but I take the view that you should have known about it; changing your address is down to you.
“When a person is in disobedience of a court order, then appropriate punishment can only be achieved by immediate custody.”
PC Leo Baker, who investigated, said officers attend these kinds of incidents far too often and many are completely avoidable.
He added: "It’s incredibly sad when we have to attend incidents where drivers have made a mistake resulting in tragedy.
“It is vital that people drive in a safe, considerate way in order to prevent awful instances like this occurring in the future."
Three victim impact statements were read out in full in court during the sentencing.
Alonzo (Lon) Smart was an army veteran of WW2 and served as a paratrooper fighting in Europe as well as participating in the liberation of Singapore. After the war he served in Palestine and Malaysia.
The experiences of army life moulded his personality for the rest of his life: he was courageous, disciplined, organised, resourceful, independent, generous and caring.
On returning to civilian life he continued working as a carpenter before setting up his own successful building business with the help of his wife Kathleen (my father’s sister); they enjoyed a good social life and had many friends in Fordham village where they lived all their married life. Lon expertly and prudently managed their finances and investments. They had no children of their own.
He had no hesitation in generously sharing his and Kathleen’s home with her parents after her father’s retirement. Kathleen died in 2016 but since then Lon lived on his own and was self-supporting with the help of his wonderful neighbours and others. He remained interested in the news and the stock market and enjoyed entertaining the frequent visitors to his home. He had robust opinions about politics and life in general.
His two nephews, close friends and villagers are outraged that his life has so undeservedly been cut short by the careless actions of a disqualified van driver, when all he was doing was crossing the road as usual with his early morning shopping.
After the accident my wife Margaret and I travelled to the hospital several times a week to see him (a three hour journey each way). It was very sad to see him losing his life and he deserved and was entitled to end his life in a better way.
We do not seek revenge for the van driver’s actions but want to see an appropriate sentence passed in order for the driver to comprehend the consequence of his actions.
We would also like to see some publicity after sentencing in order to get the message across to other disqualified drivers that driving when banned and thus without insurance is not something that should be undertaken and be liable to formal legal punishment.
We will greatly miss him and the friendship and advice he has given to us over the years. Every time we open a bottle of red wine we think of him as he so enjoyed his daily tipple!
December 2 2019, Lon is knocked down outside our house, I accompany him in the ambulance to West Suffolk Hospital.
We visited him for the next four weeks until January 2 2020 when we heard that he had passed away, just half an hour after I had left his bedside. The feeling had been that it was an inevitable conclusion, but the sense of shock and sadness and injustice of it all was immense.
Lon was a very dear friend and practically one of the family. He was part of our lives and when our children and grandchildren visited us they always popped in to see him.
Going to the Co-op was the only thing Lon did on his own, his little bit of independence and he enjoyed the contact with the staff and other shoppers alike.
We showed Lon the optimum spot with maximum visibility of traffic to cross the road back from the Co-op and that was where he crossed that morning.
For everything else he was with us or his nephew Michael and his wife Margaret for, visits to the doctors, hospital and out for lunch etc.
He enjoyed company in the evenings to join him in a drink and would regale us with many tales of life in the village and its history and we miss all the social contact we had with him. He had lived in the village for about 92 years.
We tended his garden with him and did his Tesco weekly shop and it is still very sad not to be selecting items from his shopping list every week.
Lon was a very well-respected builder until his retirement and took an active part in village life. He had served on the PCC and was on the committee of the British Legion. I posted on Fordham Facebook updates of Lon’s condition and the response from villagers was amazing, I so wanted him to be aware of how many people were rooting for him and wishing him well and then ultimately expressing their sadness.
He was a true gentleman and we miss him in so many ways.
I am Stewart Mann, I currently live in Manitoba, Canada.
Alonzo (Lon) Smart was my maternal Uncle, and has always been an important and loved family member, in fact he was the last of my ancestral relatives, as my mother (his sister) died last year.
Despite his age he was still able to look after himself, and had not lost his intelligence and abilities. I would not have been surprised if he had lived to see his 100th birthday as the family is long lived, with many who made their late 90’s and one who lived till 103.
He was a fine and honourable man, as a paratrooper in WW2 he served his country and saw combat in the invasion of Germany and then onto Singapore and Malaya against the Japanese and in Palestine during the creation of Israel, attaining the rank of Sergeant. In civilian life he had his own carpentry company, and was an active and popular member of the village community.
When I was informed of Uncle's accident I was very upset, there then followed many days and weeks of worry and anxiety while he was in hospital and finally hope that he would make a recovery, that hope was dashed when his death came, and it seemed all the more tragic and pointless.
Uncle Lon has always been an important part of my life and despite living far away I had regularly phoned and visited, but when his wife (Aunty Kathleen) died I made sure to phone him more often and visit him every day when I was back in Fordham, and I miss being able to talk to him, I’ll often think “I must tell Lon about……….” only to remember that of course I can’t, as he’s dead.
My four children were very fond of their great uncle and were very sad that he had died.
My wife and I had been able to spend some time with him in the month before his accident and we will treasure the memory of that time, while mourning his passing.