A German lorry driver who killed four people in a motorway accident in Staffordshire after falling asleep at the wheel has been jailed for five years.
Andreas Klassen smashed into a line of near-stationary traffic at 54mph after contravening European Union regulations governing hauliers’ working hours, Stafford Crown Court heard.
The Russian-born 51-year-old, a father of three, pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing to four counts of causing death by dangerous driving in connection with the crash, which happened on the northbound M6 near Cannock on September 10 last year.
Judge Mark Eades also banned Klassen from the roads for five years after stating that the only explanation for the crash was that the trucker had fallen asleep.
The judge found that Klassen, from Emsdetten, Germany, had flagrantly breached the rules and regulations regarding minimum periods of rest.
He told the defendant: "Those who drive heavy goods vehicles along the highway bear a heavy responsibility to display the highest standards.
"The mass and weight of such vehicles if misused can cause terrible accidents with multiple deaths, as this case illustrates."
Rules governing drivers’ hours had been flouted by Klassen in a fashion that demonstrated a "deliberate and systematic" decision to ignore them.
The judge added: "I am quite satisfied that these breaches of the rules and regulations are causative of this accident.
"You accept that you simply drove into a line of traffic and can offer no explanation. I am satisfied that the explanation is that you fell asleep.
"At the time of the accident, according to the tachograph, you were doing 88kph.
"Your accelerator was limited to 90kph so you were going almost flat out."
The court was told that Klassen’s truck struck four cars when it crashed at about 7.40pm, knocking a Ford Mondeo on to an embankment and crushing a Renault Clio against another lorry.
The occupants of both vehicles were killed and Klassen’s truck ended up on its side beside the carriageway at junction 11A of the M6.
Andrew Jackson, prosecuting, said Klassen must have been tired at the time of the crash, pointing out that he fell asleep in his cell less than 15 minutes after arriving at Stafford police station on the night of the tragedy.
The court heard that a couple from Stoke-on-Trent, Leslie and Irene Crosby, aged 63 and 57, died when their Mondeo was struck from behind.
Accident investigators, who viewed CCTV footage of the crash taken by roadside cameras, established that the Clio was crushed between Klassen’s Man articulated lorry and an Iveco vehicle, killing Chris Rankin, 52, a Baptist minister from Sutton Coldfield, and Matthew Sellars, 30, a member of his congregation.
Mr Jackson said Klassen had broken EU rules requiring him to have a continuous 11-hour rest during his working day and had lied to police after the crash, falsely claiming to have recently had a holiday.
"The contravention must have rendered Mr Klassen very tired indeed – he was brought to Stafford police station at 14 minutes past midnight and by 28 minutes past he was asleep in his cell," the prosecutor said.
Klassen, who was heading towards the North West to make three deliveries, passed a breath test.
Defence counsel Edmund Vickers told the court that his client, who became a German citizen in 1992, earned about 1,500 euros (#1,000) a month.
"The tragic consequences of this collision were clearly not intended," the barrister said.