A senior military officer at the Pentagon was an “aggressive and impatient driver who appeared to be in a rush” immediately before an accident that seriously injured two teenage boys in North Yorkshire, a court has heard.
Benjamin Oakes, head of space policy for the US joint chiefs of staff, denies two counts of causing injury by careless driving when a truck swerved to avoid his Vauxhall Astra which was pulling out of a junction outside Ashville College in Harrogate on 2 February this year.
The boys, aged 15 at the time, suffered broken limbs and needed multiple surgeries after they were hit by the Ford pickup and buried under rubble from a nearby wall.
In a video of a police interview played during the trial at York magistrates court, one of the boys said he was hit by the bonnet of the truck and he thought he was knocked out for a moment. He described seeing blood coming from the other boy’s ear in the aftermath of the crash.
The teenager said his friend saw his own “crushed” leg and started screaming and saying he was going to die.
The boys were taken to hospital in separate ambulances, where it was discovered the boy’s left foot was degloved – where the skin and tissue has been torn away.
He told police he remembered seeing Oakes’s car edging out into the road before striking the pickup truck, which swerved towards the oncoming traffic and then away, sending it into a spin and hitting the teenagers who were walking single file along a narrow pavement.
A witness who was waiting in traffic on the other side of the road told police that the truck was going “really quick” and that Oakes, 46, was coming from a blind junction but he was “a bit impatient” edging out. She said: “He was in a bit of a rush and just wanted to leave.”
She said the truck appeared to come “out of nowhere” and that she believed its driver, Sam Goodall, was going faster than the 30mph speed limit.
Upon questioning in court, Goodall said he was going between 20 and 30mph when Oakes pulled out into the road ahead, causing him to swerve “very violently”.
Oakes told him afterwards “I didn’t see you”, Goodall said.
Goodall, who appeared to become emotional when talking about the aftermath of the crash, said he was “shouting and screaming for someone to call an ambulance” for the boys and later called his manager to say he had been in a “horrific accident”.
The other witness said: “I think we were all in shock.”
Oakes, from Harrogate, sat listening to the evidence dressed in a grey suit, white shirt and a striped tie.
He is a colonel in the US military who has worked in a range of high-level and often sensitive roles for the Pentagon and air force. According to his LinkedIn profile, which was taken down shortly before the plea hearing, Oakes has been serving as the chief of space policy for the joint chiefs of staff, a body of the most senior leaders from the US armed forces.
Just outside Harrogate is RAF Menwith Hill, an electronic monitoring base. The large facility is jointly operated by the UK and US and has a significant presence of military and intelligence officers from agencies including the UK’s GCHQ and the US National Security Agency.
In 2017 the UK government disclosed that the US had more than 600 military personnel, contractors and civilians working at the base alongside their British counterparts.
The trial is expected to conclude on Tuesday.
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