Man accused of death of Jim Fleming told friends he 'hit a deer'

Bucks Free Press: Jim Fleming Jim Fleming

A 'SLEEPY' motorist who hit and killed a cyclist told friends he had written off his car after hitting a deer, a court heard today.

Ali Altuntas had had two or three hours of sleep in the 24 hours leading up to a collision with cyclist Jim Fleming on the A413 at Gerrards Cross on April 1 last year, Aylesbury Crown Court heard.

Mr Fleming, a 47-year-old haywarden for Chalfont St Peter Parish Council, was killed instantly when he was hit from behind by a blue Mercedes car being driven by 37-year-old Altuntas, the court heard.

In the days after the collision Altuntas, the manager of The Feast restaurant in Hill Avenue, Amersham, gave conflicting stories about what happened to his car.

Kevin Barry, prosecuting, told the six female and six male jurors: “Over the days that followed he gave various accounts to people. He told some people he hit a deer and the car had been written off.

“The car was seen driving to his restaurant afterwards. There was damage to the front but not massive.

“He told another person it had an electrical problem and was being repaired.”

He told Paul Taylor he had done “a bad thing”, the court heard.

Altuntas, of Leadale Avenue, Chingford, pleaded guilty to perverting the course of justice at an earlier hearing after “destroying or concealing potential evidence” - the car he was driving.

Mr Barry said: "There's no dispute he was the driver of the car: he doesn't take issue with that. He does dispute his driving was substandard."

He continued: “He has admitted deliberately disposing of the car over the days that followed in an effort to avoid the police linking the death to him.

“It was his poor driving that was to blame for the collision and he is responsible for the death.

“He [Mr Fleming] could and should have been clearly seen. He completely failed to see Mr Fleming cycling along the edge of the road and he failed to take any steps to slow down despite having had him in view for many seconds before the collision.”

Mr Fleming was wearing a fluorescent high-visibility jacket and had a light on the back of his bike and another on his backpack. He was not wearing a cycling helmet.

Altuntas had had a “grossly inadequate amount of quality sleep in the 24 hour period before the collision”, Mr Barry said.

“This lack of sleep no doubt contributed significantly to what was, in any event, a catastrophic lack of concentration,” he told the court.

Mobile phone records showed Altuntas appeared to be in the Amersham area for duration of his restaurant being open, from 8am-10pm. He returned home at around midnight and made a further call at about 1.30am.

Altuntas then went to a friend's house in Highbury at 3am. Records showed he withdrew cash in Smithfield, London, at 4.12am. Phone records traced him going back to Amersham, where he made a call at 6.16am, less than half an hour after the fatal smash.

Police spoke to him at The Feast.

“They had already called at his home address and they spoke to his wife there and asked about the blue Mercedes,” said Mr Barry.

“The questions were very general. When asked about the car her response was, 'It's been stolen'. Then, crucially, before the police said anything else, she said, 'I don't know anything about an accident with a bicycle'.

“The police hadn't mentioned an accident with a bicycle. He must have known himself he had been in a collision with a bicycle.”

Altuntas also claimed to have sold the car for £1,000 but had lost the phone number of the person who came to his house to buy it, jurors heard.

Mr Barry said these were “the actions of a man with a guilty conscience”. He added the car was never reported stolen and no claim against its insurance was ever made, as might be expected following a collision with a deer.

The road was in good condition and there were no potholes or defects, the court heard. There was also no sign of emergency braking from Altuntas' vehicle.

There was evidence the car veered to the right, into the outside lane of the carriageway.

“This is important for a number of reasons, the main one being you can imagine metal on tarmac and the sort of noise and scraping you would expect to hear,” said Mr Barry.

A police reconstruction concluded a car driver would have been able to see a cyclist in a fluorescent jacket on the A413 from 290 metres away – giving the motorist “five or six seconds” to react. Mr Barry said Altuntas would have had “ample time” to avoid hitting Mr Fleming.

Altuntas denies causing death by dangerous driving and an alternative charge of causing death by careless driving. The trial continues.

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