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Athlete cleared of dangerous driving charge following A494 horror smash

AN INTERNATIONAL athlete has been found not guilty of aiding and abetting the deaths of two pensioners by dangerous driving.

During a four day trial at Mold Crown Court, it was claimed Ricky Challinor, 19, had been racing against David Hirst, 18, on the A494 Mold bypass on December 5 when Hirst crashed head-on into pensioners Eric and Marie Townsend from Ruthin, killing them both.

A teenage passenger in Hirst’s car suffered injuries which would blight his life, according to prosecutor Karl Scholz.

Hirst pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing to causing the deaths by dangerous driving and will be sentenced at a later date.

But a jury of five women and seven men took just over four hours to clear Challinor, of Bryn Awelon, Buckley, by a majority verdict.

Mr Scholz claimed the bypass was being used as a ‘race track’ and the youths had driven up and down the bypass, at speeds of up to 70mph, according to eye witnesses.

But David James, defending, said even a prosecution expert witness had not supported the claim Challinor was driving at 70mph.

The defence said Challinor, a student, had been driving into Mold for lunch with Hirst and friends and had called at the Shell garage for Hirst to get petrol at the roundabout at the northern end of the Mold bypass in New Brighton.

On leaving the garage Challinor had planned to drive through New Brighton, saw there was a tail-back of traffic and decided to go down Mold bypass.

On the bypass he had safely overtaken a slower car, completing the manoeuvre before double continuous white lines.

But Hirst had tried a similar manoeuvre and found himself in a head-on smash with Mr and Mrs Townsend, an 85-year-old retired police officer and 82-year-old retired nurse.

Judge Merfyn Hughes QC said the jury had to decide whether Challinor had aided and abetted Hirst by driving in a competitive manner or by encouraging him to drive dangerously.

The court heard Challinor was a dedicated athlete who trained six days a week, running about 10 miles a day.

Testimonials were read to the jury from Jeanette Paletta, the Welsh Athletics team manager; Arwel Lewis, the Welsh Athletics team selector for road and mountain running; John Davies, the youth access co-ordinator for Flintshire and Tudor Hughes, his former headteacher at Southdown Primary School, Buckley.

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