A DENTIST knocked over a reveller staggering in the road after swerving to miss him – then tragically killed him by accidentally putting his car into reverse and rolling back over him.
David Coutts, 59, clipped popular college teacher James Gibson with his Jaguar XF, but in his panic he mistakenly chose reverse on the automatic gear dial instead of park.
Mr Gibson, 28, who worked at Hartlepool Sixth Form College, suffered fatal injuries in the accident, which happened in Grange Road, Hartlepool, at around 5.30pm on, December 19, last year after a Christmas night out.
Coutts pleaded guilty to causing death by careless or inconsiderate driving.
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he was sentenced at Teesside Crown Court yesterday after the court heard the tragic incident did not cross the jail threshold.
Mr Gibson had been celebrating the end of the college term with colleagues at The White House pub, on Wooler Road.
The court heard he had been asked to leave the pub, where he had been for around four hours, after knocking a drink over.
He walked down Grange Road, and the court heard at times he was seen to stagger into the middle of the road.
At around the same time, Coutts left work at the Lambert and Coutts practice, on Grange Road, and was driving home in his blue Jaguar XF car.
Matthew Bean, prosecuting, said: “The defendant’s car is an automatic.
“It has a drive selector in the central console to change gear and has to be rotated into the ‘R’ position to reverse next to the ‘P’ parking position.”
The court heard Coutts slowed down and swerved to avoid Mr Gibson, but hit part of his body.
Mr Bean said: “As a result of this contact, James lost balance and fell to the ground.
“The defendant and prosecution accept in a panic he rotated the drive selector to the reverse position rather than the park position, and the vehicle began to move backwards.
“The defendant accepts then in error hitting the accelerator pedal, causing the vehicle to drive over Mr Gibson with the rear wheels.
“There was a short pause. The car drove forwards, back over him.”
Witnesses described Coutts looking at his gears confused seconds after the tragedy.
He told one bystander: “I couldn’t find neutral.”
Coutts told police he caught sight of Mr Gibson in his peripheral vision.
“He was there for an instant then gone as if he had fallen,” he said.
Mr Gibson, who was from Jarrow, South Tyneside, was rushed to the University Hospital of North Tees, in Stockton, but died shortly after arrival.
In a victim impact statement Mr Gibson’s mother Linda Gibson said his death had caused “an emptiness that will haunt me every day for the rest of my life”.
Colleagues at Hartlepool Sixth Form College described him as loving, funny, and a role model to students.
Peter Makepeace, mitigating for Coutts, said: “Mr Coutts feels acutely the magnitude and extent of the consequences of this day.”
He added: “No other criminal offence has such a dispute between the criminal culpability of the offender and the horrendous consequences.”
Coutts, of Northbrook Court, Hartlepool, had no previous convictions and his driving record was “impeccable”.
Judge George Moorhouse said: “I accept that the accident was a momentary mistake on your part. Tragic, yes.
“Whatever sentence I pass will seem inadequate (to the family) but constraints are upon me and I have to follow the guidelines.”
Coutts was banned from driving for 12 months and given 250 hours unpaid work as part of a 12 month community order.
He was also ordered to pay £1,200 costs and a £60 surcharge.