For most grieving widows, writing a victim impact statement offers a chance to plead with a judge to impose the harshest possible sentence for their husband’s killer.
But, the Sunday Telegraph can reveal Claire Mercer will use hers to tell a court the lorry driver who “ploughed into” her husband and another motorist on a smart motorway should be spared jail.
Prezemyslaw Zbigniew Szuba, 40, has admitted two counts of causing death by driving without due care and attention after his 18-tonne lorry hit the stationary vehicles Jason Mercer, 44, and Alexandru Murgeanu, 22, had been driving on the M1.
The magistrates court heard last week he was not speeding, nor was he under the influence of any drink or drugs.
Mr Mercer and Mr Murgeanu had been involved in a minor prang near Sheffield in June last year but failed to reach an emergency refuge on a section of the M1 where the hard shoulder had been turned into a live lane. So, they tucked their cars in against the crash barrier.
Szuba had joined the northbound motorway at junction 34 before his Mercedes struck Mr Murgeanu’s van propelling it into the men who had been sharing insurance details. They were killed instantly.
Susan Fisher, for the prosecution, told the court: “From the Crown’s perspective, the defendant had simply not seen the vehicles that had stopped, and not slowed down sufficiently.”
Nicola Hale, defending Szuba, from Hull, said: “It was only for a matter of seconds that the vehicles were visible”.
Now, in a moving statement to be read before Szuba is sentenced later this month, Mrs Mercer, 44, will say Highways England must take responsibility for the rising death toll on smart motorways.
She will say the Government-owned company’s decision to remove hard shoulders offering emergency refuge areas only three quarters of a mile or more has led to numerous deaths and many more near misses when motorists have broken down stranded in live lanes facing fast moving traffic.
“I remain convinced Highways England’s decision to remove the hard shoulder put my husband and Alex Murgeanu’s lives in peril,” she said. “If there had been a hard shoulder they would both be alive today.
“There still has been no television information campaign to inform people of what to do in the event of an accident, let alone explain what smart motorways are.
“People are learning about smart motorways because of the publicity surrounding those who die when they breakdown without the safe haven of the hard shoulder.”
Her victim impact statement, seen by the Sunday Telegraph, will describe the loss of her “truly wonderful, loving and entertaining” husband as “immeasurable”. The couple had been married nine years and eight months.
“Jason was an important and distinctive part of our family. I can’t list all the many things we lost when he died,” she will say.
Mrs Mercer will tell the court how her loss has meant she has “lost the heart and physical ability” to continue her career as an engineer buyer for a Sheffield glass furnace company.
“Jason looked after me in every sense of the word and rated his self worth on his ability to provide love, support and stability for me and my family. I have never spent a night on my own before, and now I live on my own,” she will continue.
“But I don’t believe the correct person is taking responsibility for this massive detrimental effect on mine and so many other people’s lives. The events of June 7, 2019, would not have taken place if England’s highways were run with the correct priorities in mind.
“An agenda genuinely concerned about justice for Jason and Alexandra, as well as avoiding future deaths, will not be served by ruining yet another life in this devastation, when the devastation is not the doing of anyone in this room.”
Mrs Mercer, from Rotherham, is seeking a judicial review into smart motorways, as well as trying to prosecute Highways England for corporate manslaughter.
She has also set up a support group of a growing band of relatives who have lost loved ones who have broken down on live lanes of smart motorways before being killed.
A Highways England spokesman said their thoughts were with all those affected by the tragedy.
“Any death on our roads is one too many. We are determined to do all we can to make our roads as safe as possible, and we will continue to work tirelessly to keep England’s motorways among the safest in the world.
“We are committed to taking forward the recommendations of the Government’s Smart Motorway Evidence Stocktake and Action Plan to make our motorways even safer.”
Szouba will appear at Sheffield Crown Court on October 19 to be sentenced.