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Selby crash driver 'had not slept'

Crash scene
Ten died and 70 were injured in the horrifying crash  

LONDON, England -- Prosecutors say the motorist accused of causing the deaths of 10 men in the Selby rail disaster fell asleep at the wheel after staying up all night chatting on the phone to a woman he met on the Internet.

Builder Gary Hart was "buzzing with excitement" about his relationship with Kristeen Panter as he drove along the M62 motorway on February 28 this year, a jury was told.

But the prosecution alleged that Hart was exhausted after spending all night talking to his new-found companion and fell asleep while driving.

Hart, 37, has denied causing the Selby rail crash in which 10 people died after his Land Rover plunged down an embankment and into the path of a train.

He pleaded innocent to 10 counts of dangerous driving on Wednesday on the first day of his trial at Leeds Crown Court, northern England.

The court heard how he came into contact with with Panter eight days before the tragedy and was due to meet her for the first time on the night of the crash after numerous phone conversations and mobile text messages.

But as Hart approached a bridge over the East Coast main railway line his Land Rover, towing a trailer loaded with a Renault car, left the carriageway, plunged down an embankment and came to rest on the tracks.

The court heard how seconds later the Land Rover was wrecked as a GNER passenger express, travelling at 117mph, ploughed into it.

The derailed express then travelled another 500 metres before it was thrown further off its tracks as it crossed a set of points and then crashed head-on with a freight train travelling in the opposite direction.

Opening the prosecution case on Wednesday, James Goss QC said Hart had fallen asleep at the wheel and veered off the road.

Goss said: "It was discovered that he had not slept the previous night or even gone to bed but had spent the great majority of the night -- over five hours -- on the telephone to a lady he met over the Internet.

"Accordingly, on the morning of the collision, he drove at a time when he was deprived of sleep and in circumstances and for such a period that the prosecution allege that he fell asleep as he was driving."

He added: "That was dangerous driving and, tragically, it caused the deaths of others."

More than 50 relatives of the victims and survivors watched from the packed public gallery, some in tears as the indictment was put.

According to Goss, Hart told police he heard a violent bang from the back of the Land Rover before he veered off the motorway and sped down the embankment. "It drifted around and I ended up going into the grass verge.

"I knew I shouldn't brake but I thought I would get it back once it was straight again but then I just dropped down a steep bank ending up on the train track."

Hart said he dazed and began to look for his mobile phone and the train hit his vehicle as he was speaking to the 999 operator.

Hart was separated from his wife Elaine at the time of the incident. The trial was adjourned until Friday.


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