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Hit-and-run driver killed father-of-two while on bail for other crash

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Gary Haffenden was pictured sucking on a balloon minutes before the fatal crash (Picture: Hyde News and Pictures)

A hit-and-run driver has been jailed for killing a restaurateur in front of his wife and kids while on bail over a horror crash which left another motorist with life-changing injuries.

Gary Haffenden, 21, ploughed into father-of-two Syed Zaidi, 35, in Virginia Water, Surrey, on March 17, 2019. He fled the scene before handing himself in to Staines police station a few hours later claiming a pedestrian had ‘stumbled out’ in front of him.

When officers tracked down the abandoned Ford Ranger truck, they found 17 empty canisters of nitrous oxide scattered on the floor. Reading Crown Court was shown CCTV footage of Haffenden sucking on a balloon thought to be filled with the ‘laughing gas’ just 10 minutes before the smash.

The court heard the tragedy took place nine months after building surveyor Graham Nichols suffered appalling injuries when Haffenden smashed into him on the Isle of Sheppey.

Haffenden sobbed in the dock as the court was told how Mr Zaidi had been out with his one-year-old son and three-year-old daughter on the day of the fatal collision.

Prosecutor Alan Blake said: ‘Syed Zaidi worked as a restaurant owner. He had received a call to say that a delivery driver was having problems with their car. He decided to do the delivery himself before going home.

‘He was delivering the last lot of food to a home in Wraysbury Road, Virginia Water. His wife saw him look right on the road before she saw a flash and her husband disappeared from her view. She realised he had been propelled some distance.’

Haffenden was driving at 67mph on a 40mph road 100 metres before he collided with the father-of-two (Picture: Hyde News & Pictures Ltd)
Victim Syed Zaidi died from chest and abdominal injuries (Picture: Hyde News & Pictures Ltd)

The court heard Haaffenden was driving at 67mph on a 40mph road just 100 metres before he collided with the father-of-two.

A post-mortem examination revealed the victim died from chest and abdominal injuries, as well as traumatic injuries of the aorta after the fatal crash.

Mr Zaidi’s widow Afsheen Shiraz told the court in a moving victim impact statement that the family ‘will never forget that moment’.

She said: ‘After this incident I have lost myself, I have to take care of my children alone, I am totally incomplete without him. My heart weeps every night.

‘When my children ask when their papa is coming back, I am left speechless. My daughter said she wanted to become a doctor so she can heal her father from the accident.

‘We were all sitting in the car, it was a family day out at Virginia Water. Everything happened in front of us. We were looking to our husband delivering food, after that he was coming back – my children saw it all. We will never forget that moment.

‘I saw my husband upside down, blood was coming out of his mouth, I cannot explain – it was horrible, the worst day of my life. It all happened in the blink of an eye.

‘Without my loving, caring husband, my children do not have their father to protect them. When I see a couple smiling, I look to the sky and ask God to support them because I know the pain I am suffering. My life is completely meaningless.’

Haffenden admitted causing death by careless driving, causing death while uninsured and failing to stop, as well as causing serious injury by dangerous driving in relation to Mr Nichols.

The court heard the then-18-year-old fell asleep at the wheel of his Toyota Hilux pick-up truck while on his way home from a Christian camp in August 2018.

Mr Nichols had to be cut out of his Skoda Fabia car before paramedics rushed him to Kings College Hospital in London, where he remained for five weeks undergoing painful surgeries to mend fractures to both legs and knees.

Mr Nichols was forced to take early retirement and can now only walk ‘up to half a mile’ with a crutch as an aid, the court was told.

Haffenden similarly fled the scene, handing himself in to police the next morning. Again, they found canisters of nitrous oxide scattered around the floor of his truck and a packet of yellow latex balloons.

Judge Paul Dugdale said: ‘The first collision in the Isle of Sheppey caused life-changing injuries to Graham Nichols, who has to get through the rest of his life needing a crutch to walk.

‘The second collision killed Syed Zaidi. Nothing I can do will help his wife, his father in Pakistan and, worst of all, his children who will grow up without knowing their father at all.

‘There are no winners in this.’

He told Haffenden: ‘You were on bail for having crashed a pick-up truck into a man who spent five weeks in hospital.

‘One would have thought you were doing your best to keep out of the driver’s seat, let alone a pick-up truck when you are out in a jolly with your mates, taking gas from balloons which you did that day.

‘We have seen pictures of you with a balloon in your mouth, you have told us that balloon was full of air. I sentence you on the basis that you were not under the influence when this accident took place.’

Haffenden, of East Malling, Kent, was jailed for three years and disqualified from driving for four-and-a-half years.

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